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Alcohol a Factor in Up to Half of Youth Crimes
The Irish Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009 by CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

ABOUT 1,000 children aged 12 or under were referred to gardaí last year after being suspected of committing an offence, according to latest juvenile justice figures.

A total of 21,400 people under the age of 18 were referred to the Garda’s youth diversion programme in 2008. This crime prevention initiative aims to engage with young people who admit involvement in criminal or anti-social behaviour.

The figures, to be published shortly, are expected to show alcohol-related incidents ccounted for most offences, followed by theft and road traffic offences.

About 3,000 children were deemed unsuitable for the diversion programme because they either did not accept responsibility for their behaviour or their crime was too serious.

The high level of alcohol-related crime tallies with a study by the Irish Youth Justice Service – an arm of the Department of Justice – on the operation of Garda youth diversion projects.

This found that up to 50 per cent of youth crime is committed in situations where alcohol has been consumed.

The study of 100 Garda youth diversion projects – which provide activities and guidance for young people involved in antisocial and criminal behaviour – found there was a significant pattern of young people getting alcohol from parents or older siblings.

In a smaller number of cases, young people also targeted “lax” off-licences which were less vigilant in policing the law on alcohol sales to minors.

Home delivery services – where off-licences deliver – were also identified as a concern.

Gardaí told researchers they had difficulty in taking action given that once an adult received a delivery of alcohol, young people could legally consume alcohol on a private premises.

Across all of the projects, there tended to be peaks in alcohol-related offending at weekends, during school holidays and on public holidays such as St Patrick’s Day and Halloween.

Some areas reported that drinking from Thursday to Sunday was impacting on school attendance. Most alcohol-related offences included public order or criminal damage to property, such as cars, shop windows and bus shelters.

Most offending was not targeted at individuals, although some people were targeted, such as neighbours complaining about antisocial behaviour.

In general, alcohol-related offences were much more likely to involve boys than girls.

While alcohol was a key feature in most assaults, there was significant evidence to suggest it was not associated with all incidents. Most non-alcohol-related assaults tended to involve organised fights or were the result of long-running tensions.

Girls, it found, featured significantly and disproportionately in this type of behaviour.

About half of the projects said many young people were apparently indifferent to changing their behaviour.
A similar number of projects reported indifference among parents.

Among the recommendations of the report are that Garda youth diversion projects tailor their activities to ensure they address the patterns of offending behaviour in their specific area.

Separately, new figures show that just over 120 young people were detained in child detention schools last year.

There are four such schools in the State: Trinity House in Lusk, Oberstown boys and girls schools, and Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre.

Only boys aged under 16 and girls under 18 years at the time of being remanded or committed by the courts can be held in a child detention school.