Tender issued for bail supervision scheme for young offenders

Proposal first mooted five years ago to help children avoid corosive prison environment

The bail scheme was first recommended by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon in a report to the Government five years ago. Photograph: Garett White/Collins

The bail scheme was first recommended by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon in a report to the Government five years ago. Photograph: Garett White/Collins

 

The Department of Children has published a tender for a new “intensive supervision” bail scheme for minors awaiting trial.

The system will add a layer of supervision to strengthen adherence to bail conditions and aims to reduce child custody rates on remand, which are higher than those of adults.

The scheme was first recommended by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon in a report to the Government five years ago. He said it would help children avoid a damaging prison environment and reduce recidivism rates.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says alternatives to detention should be available for children. In Ireland, the Children Act 2001 states the detention of minors must be a last resort.

In a paper last November, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) criticised the absence of a time limit for such detentions, a situation it said was contrary to Council of Europe recommendations that juveniles should spend no longer than six months behind bars.

“The absence of a maximum statutory period of remand for children means that in practice they can be exposed to lengthy periods of pre-trial detention,” the trust said.

Figures released by the Department of Children last year showed the average number of days for which under 18s were remanded to detention schools was 25 days in 2013 and 22 days in 2014.

In 2013, 96 children were remanded in custody, some for more than a month. Of those, 27 per cent received custodial sentences for the offence or offences for which they were originally charged. That proportion climbed to 45 per cent the following year while the IPRT says the adult equivalent is about 15 per cent.

Tender

As well as potentially reducing the cost of remand places at Oberstown centre in Lusk, Co Dublin, the scheme aims to help children “moderate their chaotic circumstances and promote greater stability”.

A pilot will operate for two years, targeting about 50 suitable children attending the Dublin Children’s Court. A team of three to four people would be notified by Oberstown or the Probation Service when a child has been remanded and then assessed for suitability.

The scheme includes supports like training, education and health-related services. Progress reports would allow judges to eventually consider “less onerous supervision”.