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TRENDS IN JUVENILE CRIME IN IRELAND

The main source of published data on children’s offending in Ireland is the Annual Reports of the Committee appointed to Monitor the Effectiveness of the Diversion Programme’ (An Garda Siochana 2013). These reports detail the total number of referrals (offences) committed by children on an annual basis. These data point to an upward trend in the number of recorded crimes by children between 2003 and 2011 from 19,915 to 27,384 and a considerable decline thereafter to 24,069 and 20,536 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Analysis of this downward crime trend since 2011 by the Garda Siochana Analysis Service (GSAS) points to a general decline in overall crime nationally and in a number of international jurisdictions. The GSAS also refers to increases in children’s participation and/or progression in the primary and secondary educational systems as well as youth self-reported reductions in their use of alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis over the last decade. They also suggest that the increased emphasis on police-led youth crime prevention and diversion initiatives (see Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme) under the 2001 Act may have positively impacted on offending rates, but suggest that further interrogation and analysis of data is required before such conclusions are reached.

Differences in the way crimes are classified in the aforementioned annual reports on children’s offending since 2010 means that direct comparisons between crime categories over time is restricted. The available data resonates with international trends demonstrating that the majority of criminal incidents perpetrated by children are not of a serious nature. For example, in 2013, the offence categories that accounted for almost two-thirds of children’s offences were: theft and related offences (27 %), public order and social code offences (26 %), and damage to property and the environment (11 %). The pattern of these collective categories is broadly consistent with preceding years. Differences emerge within categories with a decline in public order offences between 2010 and 2013 and a corresponding rise in the proportion of theft offences from 22 % in 2010 to 27 % in 2013. Notable also are the offences related to young people’s behaviour and youthful status. In 2013, over one-fifth (21 %) of offences in the category of public order and social code related to public drunkenness and purchasing or consuming alcohol under 18 years, respectively, and 80 % of controlled drug offences involved possession of drugs for personal use (An Garda Siochana 2013). As expected, serious offences, particularly of a sexual or violent nature, account for very small proportions of children’s crimes. Sexual offences rose slightly from 0.7 % in 2010 but remain a small proportion at 1.2 % in 2013. Over the 4-year period between 2010 and 2013, an average of four incidents per annum were recorded for homicide offences, incorporating murder, manslaughter, infanticide, and dangerous driving leading to death accounting for less than 0.01 % of referrals (offences). The absence of comprehensive victimisation data and self-report data on offending behaviour is a challenge to presenting a more complete picture on the level of crime perpetrated by children in Ireland. This is especially relevant in the context of national statistics demonstrating the level of crime that goes unreported to the police. Results from the ‘Crime and Victimisation Quarterly National Household Survey 2010’ identify that 37 % of thefts without violence were not reported in 2010 with the most common reasons being the perception that the theft was not sufficiently serious or no loss was involved (Central Statistics Office 2010).

 
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