Over 760 gardaí were disciplined over Juvenile Diversion Scheme controversy
A TOTAL OF 768 gardaí have been disciplined over the Juvenile Liaison Scheme controversy with many still under investigation, © Shutterstock
In 2019, it emerged that 3,500 juveniles had not been prosecuted for crimes they had committed over several years. These children were considered “habitual re-offenders” by the report and were therefore deemed unfit for the diversion scheme.
The vast majority of these crimes were for public order offences. However, more serious offences such as assault, rape, aggravated burglary and violent disorder also went unpunished.
Gardaí said most of the 768 officers who were disciplined received cautions. However, a small number were dealt with under more serious regulations.
A review by the Policing Authority found that juvenile diversion referrals were being left in draft form preventing them from being processed. In other cases, these referrals were not being assigned to a juvenile liaison garda.
The Policing Authority found that there was a significant lack of follow-through by gardaí in the event where the child was deemed unfit for the system and therefore should have been prosecuted, as usual, through the criminal justice system.
Commissioner Drew Harris established a new National Bureau for Child Diversion in response to the scandal. Mandatory training for gardaí has also been introduced in a bid to cut out any incidents like this happening again.
Despite multiple changes made to the system following the 2019 controversy, sources told this publication that there are still issues within it.
For example, one serial child offender has received the support of the juvenile scheme over six times in the last 18 months.
He has since been charged with a very serious offence. Questions are now being asked by the family of the victim as to why this violent offender was on the streets when, in most cases, he should have been in custody.
The original aim of the Juvenile Diversion Programme was to help prevent young offenders in Ireland from entering into the full criminal justice system.
How it works
Instead of a criminal conviction, the young person is given the chance to admit to their crime as part of the scheme and is offered one of a range of options to make amends.
Specially-trained garda Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) are assigned to work with them.
At the start of 2019, Commissioner Drew Harris issued an apology to those affected by the controversy.
He said: “I want to apologise to those young people we let down, vulnerable young people, we should have done better by them, we failed. It was caused by organisational and individual failings.”
Despite various new safeguards brought in to change how the scheme works, sources with knowledge of the system say it is “too slow” and is often “unfit for purpose”.
Independent auditors tasked with reviewing the system said they were “very concerned” by what they described as garda inaction.
Last month, Justice Minister Helen McEntee launched a new initiative after research found that up to 1,000 children are involved in criminal networks across the country.
This programme is being implemented on a pilot basis in two locations and will involve network disruption, taking back control of public spaces, improving opportunities for young people and intensive case-work with families.
“The fact that an estimated 1,000 children across the State are engaged with criminal networks illustrates the work we have to do. Our plans to outlaw the grooming of children into crime is a clear signal that we are serious about stopping the gangs from leading our young into a life of crime,” McEntee said.
Asked if it were satisfied with the scheme as it currently stands, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said: “The Garda Professional Standards Unit continues to monitor the implementation of the Juvenile Diversion Programme.
Regarding those child offenders who go on to commit more serious offences, the spokesman added: “Section 18, The Children’s Act 2001 requires that, ‘any child who has committed an offence and accepts responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour shall be considered for admission to a diversion programme’.
“An Garda Síochána does not have any discretionary power as to whether to assess a juvenile for inclusion in the Juvenile Diversion programme.”