£90m FG plan to cut youth crime

 

Fine Gael has published a £90 million programme to cut juvenile crime. It includes proposals to treble funding for the Probation and Welfare Service.

The party's education spokesman, Mr Richard Bruton, said the number of offenders under the age of 13 had grown by "an alarming 50 per cent in just two years" while crime overall was falling.

"The pattern is already establishing itself where one in seven of our children will become involved in some form of criminality," he said, adding that 9,500 young people were referred to the Garda Juvenile Office for the first time each year.

He said a survey of juvenile delinquents by Dr Noel Gorman and Dr Jim Barnes had found that in 33 per cent of cases the natural parents were separated, while in 75 per cent of cases the head of the household was unemployed. Some 16 per cent already had one or more male family members in prison either now or in the past, while almost all (94 per cent) of the boys had a below-average IQ, with 25 per cent being illiterate.

The Fine Gael justice spokesman, Mr Jim Higgins, said the party's package focused on alternatives to custody, including a trebling of the resources for the Probation and Welfare Service.

"The fact that 80 per cent of offenders on community service orders have completed their hours without reoffending underlines the merits of the scheme as a viable, cost-effective alternative to prison," he said.

The package also included the expansion of the juvenile diversion programme, where offenders under 18 are cautioned as an alternative to court proceedings, and the introduction throughout the State of an identification card scheme to curb under-age drinking.

Mr Bruton added that existing policies had failed and custodial sentences were costing the taxpayer £46,000 a year per prison place, with over two-thirds of prisoners reoffending after release.

To break this vicious cycle, Fine Gael was also proposing an educational preventive programme, including pre-school facilities in areas of educational disadvantage and an education welfare service to deal with non-attenders.

The proposals also involve homework clubs and the opening of schools out of hours to promote useful learning recreation for young people at risk, with the extra-curricular services being supervised by youth co-ordinators.

A party spokesman said some £50 million of the cost is already included in Fine Gael's education proposals. The remaining alternatives-to-custody proposals should cost some £40 million.