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Our response to the publication of the Criminal Justice Inspection Report on Monitoring of Progress on implementation of the youth justice review

Responding to the publication of the Criminal Justice Inspection Report on Monitoring of Progress on implementation of the youth justice review Paula Rodgers, policy coordinator at Include Youth, said:

"While we acknowledge all that has been achieved in the last four years we are disappointed that more than 40 per cent of the Youth Justice Review recommendations remain unmet. The 'loss of momentum' and lack of strategic oversight, noted by the Inspectors, is particularly worrying given the improvements that had been made in the first two years.

"One of the key recommendations within the Youth Justice Review in 2011 was that the age of criminal responsibility be raised immediately from 10 years old to 12, with consideration given to raising it to 14. There has been no progress towards this recommendation and as such we are in breach of international children's rights standards.

"The Inspectors acknowledged increasing support for raising the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland and we as an organisation hear this also through our recent work in communities. We recognise that alternatives must be found to deal with children who display offending behaviours so that they are not unnecessarily criminalised.

"The reduction in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system is positive but too many young people from a care background remain disproportionately represented in the system.

"Looked after children continue to be referred for minor matters and it is unacceptable that these vulnerable children continue to be detained unnecessarily in a custodial setting. There is no justification for a lack of movement on this recommendation given it was to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"The number of children detained within Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre, who have not been sentenced, remains extremely high. Therefore custody is still not being used as a last resort.

"Earlier this year it was noted that that only nine per cent (60 children per year) of children in the juvenile justice centre were there on sentence, the rest there under PACE or remand. Once again we question whether the juvenile justice centre has become a holding centre for children where suitable alternative accommodation cannot be found?

"We know from our direct work with young people, that children and young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system often experience complex social, educational and health needs. We can only reduce the numbers of children entering the youth justice system further if all departments recognise their responsibility to these children. As the Inspector states, positive change requires collaboration and commitment from other Northern Ireland Executive departments.

"While we welcome the fact that no under 18 year old has been held in the Hydebank Secure College for the last number of years, we are still pushing to see this change reflected in the legislation.

"Finally, while we are aware that the Department of Justice is currently undergoing a scoping study on children in the justice system, which is due to report in January 2016, this study will not negate the need for the Department to deliver on all aspects of the review recommendations.

"There is a critical need for oversight and monitoring of the ongoing work to deliver on the unmet recommendations and the outcomes of the scoping study."

ENDS

Media enquiries: Please contact Sharon Whittaker, Communications Officer at Include Youth, on 028 9031 1007 or sharon@includeyouth.org