Delays in youth justice system a 'barrier to rehabilitation'

Published date10 January 2022
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
It was wet and cold and passers-by stared at him and his fellow court attendees as they waited. Covid-19 restrictions meant everyone had to wait outside until their case was called

There were a lot of names on the list ahead of James. His social worker asked a staff member if his case was likely to be reached. Probably not, was the reply, but they had to stay just in case.

It was the 22-year-old's 13th court appearance after being charged with possession of €10 worth of cannabis in October 2018; a Garda had caught him and a friend smoking a joint in a parked car in south Dublin.

His case was not reached. Instead it was adjourned for a 14th and subsequently a 15th time. James is due back before the court this month. Despite a guilty plea and 14 court appearances over a three-year period, the matter appears no closer to being finalised.

It is not even James's oldest outstanding case. Another charge, stemming from his fingerprints being found on a stolen car, dates to 2015 when he was 14 years old.

"He feels like giving up," his social worker says. "He thinks he will never get out from under this."

James is no angel. He has multiple previous offences, mostly related to cannabis, and has spent a brief time in custody. But, according to his arrest record, he has not been in trouble for two years. These days he mainly sits in his room, on his PlayStation for up to 10 hours a day, his social worker says.

Series of delays

He is one of many young people caught in a seemingly endless series of delays in the youth justice system, says Aisling Golden, the justice programme manager with the Solas Project which supports young people in the justice system.

"We tell these young people, 'This is how you do it, this is how you make it work.' And we're being proven wrong. All these delays are doing is proving to young people that the system doesn't work," says Golden who has previously worked for the Garda Youth Diversion Project and with gang members in Boston.

"This feeling of hopelessness sets in. They feel they can't win and they ask 'What's the f**king point?'"

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by Ireland, states children facing criminal charges have a right to have the matter "determined without delay".

To a large extent, this is not happening in Ireland. And it is not a new problem. Four research studies conducted in 2005-2010 found delays in court lists and the habitual use of adjournments were common in the Children Court.

"It is...

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