Alcohol link to most arrests of teenagers

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Teenagers came to the attention of gardaí for public drunkenness far more often than any other crime type last year, according to the annual report of the committee monitoring the Garda diversion programme.

However, a significant number of children were arrested for very serious offences including gangland crimes such as drug dealing and gun possession, and even for rape.

The programme deals with young people aged 10-17 years who commit crime. It aims to encourage them to admit their wrongdoing and then punishes them through a caution and intervention system to avoid their having a criminal record and help them avoid reoffending.

Some 1,027 under-18s were arrested for drug possession last year, and 174 for drug dealing. There were 32 cases of possession of a firearm and 378 cases for possession of other offensive weapons, including knives.

A total of 74 sexual offences committed by under-18s were also referred to the programme, including 17 rapes and 40 cases of sexual assault. There was one case of prostitution and one relating to child pornography.

While the involvement of so many children in such serious crime will raise concerns, alcohol-related offences dominated the diversion programme last year, accounting for almost one in five of all offences referred to it.

There were 3,079 cases of public drunkenness referred to the diversion programme, which dealt with 23,952 cases during the year.

After drunkenness, abusive and threatening behaviour was the next most common offence, with 1,435 cases arising across the State among teenagers last year. This was followed by the offence of “purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol”, which accounted for 1,144 cases.

There were 3,100 motoring offences, of which 118 related to drink-driving, 460 for speeding and 702 for having no insurance.

Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews TD welcomed the overall fall of more than 13 per cent in the number of referrals in 2009. However, he said: “We must not get complacent and efforts to reduce and prevent youth crime must continue.”

He added: “The implementation of the National Youth Justice Strategy and the efforts of the Irish Youth Justice Service and its strategic partners, especially An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service, have a vital part to play.”

As well as cautions, some teenagers are placed under the supervision of Garda junior liaison officers, usually for a year, as part of their punishment.

The programme also includes some restorative justice mechanisms under which some youth offenders meet their victims. Counselling or other appropriate interventions are also provided for some children.

The programme was provided for under the Children’s Act, 2001. It is overseen by a Garda and civilian monitoring committee, chaired by Assistant Commissioner Louis Harkin.

The overall number of incidents referred to the programme last year was down 13 per cent on 2008. It dealt with 18,529 children, down 14 per cent on the previous year.

Of those children referred last year, some 54 per cent were given an informal caution. A further 22 per cent were formally cautioned, which usually includes a period of supervision.

Of the remaining children, some 6 per cent required no further action and 16 per cent were not admitted to the programme because they were considered unsuitable. In order to be admitted to the programme children must admit their wrongdoing, consent to being cautioned and be aged 10 or older.

Source: The Irish Times, 20.08.10
Journalist: Conor Lally