Increase in anti-social behaviour during pandemic concerns Minister

Extra funds for youth justice budget to be used to target ‘persistent’ young offenders

Ministers of State at the Department of Justice James Browne TD. Photograph:  Damien Eagers

Ministers of State at the Department of Justice James Browne TD. Photograph: Damien Eagers

 

A 46 per cent increase in the youth justice budget will help to tackle a small cohort of young offenders who are causing an “awful amount of damage” in communities across Ireland, Minister of State James Browne has said.

The extra €6.7 million announced in Budget 2022 will allow social workers and gardaí to more effectively target the small group of young offenders who studies show account for the majority of youth crime, he said.

Mr Browne, a Minister of State in the Department of Justice, said he was concerned about an increase in anti-social behaviour among young people during the pandemic.

“We have all seen the videos of situations in Dublin city in particular,” he told the Irish Times.

“Statistics will say youth offending is actually going down, especially among those getting involved in the youth diversion projects. But I do have a concern that in more recent times, especially over the last year, we are seeing an increase in anti-social behaviour and that is starting to manifest itself in more serious crime.”

Mr Browne also raised concern about a slight increase in knife crime. He said it was “only going up a fairly small amount” but this was happening for the first time since 2006.

He said he was concerned this increase might be the beginning of a trend. “So we want to put the interventions in place now so it doesn’t become something more serious in our communities.”

Filling gaps

The increase in funding will mean the department’s six year youth justice strategy will have received almost half of its funding in only its first year. The money will allow youth diversion programmes to be rolled out nationwide for the first time. “There are still gaps in various counties and cities. This will allow us to fill those gaps,” he said.

The expansion will allow youth workers to engage with more young people who come in contact with the criminal justice system on a once-off basis. These are teens “who get a bit wayward and with a quick intervention you can often divert them in better behaviour,” Mr Browne said

“This money will also help more specialised programmes to target the small number of persistent offenders who can cause an awful amount of damage.”

Instead of only meeting with a persistent young offender a handful of times, he said youth workers will be allowed to work with a small number of clients on an intensive “never give-up” basis.

No alternatives

“They have gotten involved in crime very early, they have left school early, they have no qualifications, they don’t seen any alternatives,” he said.

“A life of crime has sort of become a way of life for them so you really have to work on them to help them get qualifications and give them support that they probably never had.”

The funding will also allow for the expansion of programmes such as the Greentown Project which focuses on stopping criminal gangs from grooming children into a life of crime.

These pilot programmes have been going on in undisclosed locations, for fear of criminals targeting the social workers involved, Mr Browne said.

The strategy is all evidence based, he said. “It’s not shots in the dark. We have a really good idea of what works now and we’re fairly confident we will have some really great successes with this.”