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The police (An Garda Siochana) play a central role in the juvenile justice system through the delivery of a statutory cautioning programme known as the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme (GJDP). Although originally established as the Juvenile Liaison Scheme (JLS) in 1963, the Programme was only placed on a statutory footing following the 2001 Act. Eligibility for the programme requires that children are aged between 10 and 17 years, they accept responsibility for their offences and consent to participation. Cases are referred centrally to the Director of the GJDP at the Garda Youth Diversion Office in Dublin who decides the outcome of each referral. The Director may admit the child to the programme which means that an informal caution or a formal caution is executed. Victims’ views are considered in the decision to admit a child to the programme but their consent is not a requirement in law. Other outcomes include a decision to take no further action against the child or the child is deemed unsuitable for the programme. A child is considered unsuitable due to the seriousness and/or persistence of offending, where consent to participate is not forthcoming or where the child does not accept responsibility for his/her behaviour. In these situations, cases are referred back to the local police where prosecution is the most likely outcome. There are some exceptions such as the small number of cases (an average of 75 cases per annum between 2010 and 2013) who are resubmitted to the GJDP for review by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This most commonly occurs where there is a change in circumstances, e.g. a child takes responsibility for the offending behaviour (Mullan 2014).

Specialist police officers known as Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) have responsibility for cautioning and supervising children and engaging directly with their families. These officers are trained in conflict resolution and mediation as required under the 2001 Act. Training is also undertaken in restorative practices. Children who are formally cautioned are supervised for a period up to 12 months and have conditions attached to their supervision. The level of supervision is at the discretion of the JLO subject to a number of guidelines including the seriousness of the offending behaviour, the perceived level of care and control provided by the child’s parent(s)/guardian(s), perceived risk of re-offending and/or any direction from the Director of the programme. Legislative provision exists for the victim or victim’s representative to attend the formal caution and in these cases the caution becomes a restorative caution. The use of restorative cautions has grown considerably over the last decade from a baseline of 138 in 2004 to 911 in 2013 (An Garda Siochana 2013). There is also scope for a restorative conference to be held as part of the formal caution though in practice these have been used in limited cases since their implementation. These conferences are facilitated by a JLO and attended by the child, the parent/guardian, the victim, agency representatives, and others who are considered positive constituents to the process. An action plan is formulated arising from the conference and may include an apology to the victim; financial reparation; a requirement for the child to attend school, work, or other pro-social activities; restrictions on the child’s movements and/or associations; and/or other interventions deemed to reduce re-offending. Participation in restorative cautions and conferences as part of the GJDP is voluntary and contingent on the consent of the child and his/her parent(s)/ guardian(s).

There were 20,536 offences referred to the GJDP in 2013 accounting for 10,420 children. Each offence is counted as a referral and children may also be referred to the GJDP on more than one occasion. These factors account for the differences between the number of referrals and the number of children. Young males accounted for 75 % of the children referred. Over half of the referrals involved 16 and 17 year olds, almost one-third related to 14 and 15 year olds and just 12 %> were for 12 and 13 year olds. This age distribution of children has been relatively consistent over time and demonstrates that the majority of children referred to the programme are between 14 and 17 years (An Garda Siochana 2013). In 2013, just less than three-quarters of children (74 %>) were accepted on the programme by way of an informal or a formal caution. Of this group, 50 % received an informal caution and 24 % received a formal caution. In a further 6 % of cases, no further action was taken while in 4 % of cases a decision on the case was pending. In total, 15 % were deemed unsuitable for the programme and of these 88 % were male. The outcomes for children referred to the programme in 2013 reflects a general pattern over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013 demonstrating that the majority of children are diverted from prosecution each year by way of police caution (An Garda Siochana 2013).

Its capacity to divert substantial numbers of children from prosecution and conviction is seen as the key strength of the GJDP. In the narrative of twenty- first century juvenile justice in Ireland, the GJDP is seen to epitomise the diversionary ethos of the 2001 Act. Notwithstanding its prominent position on the juvenile justice landscape, a number of criticisms have been levelled against it. A lack of transparency and accountability in the decision-making processes on the programme and the absence of due process have been raised by a number of commentators (Kilkelly 2011; Walsh 2008). The programme is not independently monitored which is noteworthy in circumstances where the police retain full administrative and management responsibility for it and the Director has complete discretion in decision-making about the outcomes for children referred to the programme. A further concern is that the programme has not been independently evaluated despite being in existence since 1963 and on a statutory footing since 2002. Consequently, there is limited information available on the processes or the outcomes for children referred to the programme.[1] The absence of publicly available data on the programme means that it is not possible to identify changes in patterns of offending behaviour. Neither is it possible to identify if a net- widening effect exists whereby children who previously would have remained outside the juvenile justice system for minor misdemeanours are now brought in by way of a referral to the programme. Finally, an amendment to the 2001 Act means that while children cannot be prosecuted for the offence for which they were cautioned, their admission to the programme can be referenced in circumstances where a court is considering a sentence for offences committed after their admission to the programme.

  • [1] The only available information refers to general criteria used in decision-making such as the seriousness and persistence of children’s offending and/or previous involvement in the GJDP. Outcomesare divided into categories of: informal caution, formal caution, no further action, case pendingand unsuitable for admission but no further information on the nuances underpinning these outcomes are provided.
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