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Our response to the Ministerial Statement to the Assembly in relation to the Scoping Study: Children in the Justice System

Responding to Justice Minister David Ford's statement to the Assembly in relation to the Scoping Study into children in the justice system Paula Rodgers, policy coordinator at Include Youth, said:

"While a positive statement by the Justice Minister these recommendations are for a future Assembly, nothing is yet secured.

"We are all agreed that where possible children should be kept out of the justice system, in particular we welcome the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility - something that was already recommended by the Youth Justice Review, is long overdue and will bring Northern Ireland in line with international children's rights standards.

"No child should ever be detained with adults in a prison and since 2012 no child has been detained with adults, what's missing is the legislation to ensure this never happens in the future.

"We know from our direct experience of working with children and young people that it is often those who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged who come into contact with the criminal justice system. These children and young people have a range of complex needs which cannot be met within the criminal justice system, and indeed if their needs had have been addressed at an earlier point by other government departments and agencies, many of the children would not have ended up in the justice system. We welcome the Minister's intentions to place children's needs at the centre of all interactions.

"The proposal to place the youth justice system within a welfare and social services model rather than criminal justice is a welcome suggestion and we look forward to engaging in discussions on how this would operate in practice.

"We know that children continue to be detained in custody because there is a lack of alternative accommodation. The use of custody as last resort is an issue that had been identified previously by the Youth Justice Review in 2011 and Criminal Justice Inspection. While we welcome the fact that the Scoping Study addresses this issue we are disappointed that progress has not been made at this stage.

"In fact, many of these recommendations had been made and already consulted on and it's unfortunate that as this Assembly's mandate draws to an end so few have been implemented. The Minister's proposals today, if implemented, could result in a significant improvement on how we deal with children, not just in the justice system, but across government. Cross-departmental buy in is critical to success. These are recommendations for a new Assembly - what we need is for that Assembly to step up and deliver."

ENDS

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: For more information contact Sharon Whittaker, Communications Officer at Include Youth on 028 9031 1007 or sharon@includeyouth.org