The Irish Times view on how to deal with aggressive teenagers: Juvenile justice

Clear evidence shows that engagement with the criminal justice system, with jail, simply feeds young and old into a life of criminality

Gardaí are investigating after a woman was reportedly racially abused before being pushed into the Royal Canal while walking near Ashtown in Dublin

 

The disgraceful attack on Friday on Xuedan (Shelly) Xiong that saw her pushed into the Royal Canal after confronting youths who were racially abusing her, and the intimidation of pensioner John McElligot on another stretch of the canal, a new cycle way, will not surprise many of those in inner-city communities for whom coping with teenage anti-social behaviour has become an unfortunate way of life.

The prison system is associated with recidivism rates as high as 95 per cent

How should we deal with unruly teenagers? In particular, with the self-reinforcing culture of small gangs for whom aggressive behaviour, sometimes verging on assault, sometimes racially aggravated, is less a criminal act than an immature attempt to show off to peers. Albeit, no less acceptable. The temptation is to say lock-em-up and throw away the key, and hence the surprise of many to read the youths identified as Ms Xiong’s attackers are unlikely to face prosecution but will more likely be dealt with under the Juvenile Diversion Programme (JDP) and its caution regime.

Part of the Royal Canal at Castleknock in Dublin. Photograph: Google Maps
The Royal Canal near Castleknock in Dublin. File photograph: Google Maps

What is certain is that incarceration is not the right approach for young people. Clear evidence shows that engagement with the criminal justice system, with jail, simply feeds young and old into a life of criminality. The prison system is associated with recidivism rates as high as 95 per cent.

People who enter it at a young age are the demographic most likely to reoffend, but, studies show, they also have the highest capacity for rehabilitation and positive change. Hence the JDP.

The system is by no means mollycoddling but a proven means of reducing recidivism

Depending on the gravity of the offence, a formal or informal caution may be issued, and the offender may be asked to apologise to the victim or the community. Young offenders who receive formal cautions may be placed under the supervision of a Garda juvenile liaison officer for 12 months, while those who receive informal cautions may be placed under supervision for six months.

The system is by no means mollycoddling but a proven means of reducing recidivism. So effective is it, with all its resource limitations, that Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is considering extending it from under-18s to under-24-year-olds.

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