Making amends: restorative youth justice in Northern Ireland
Nov 03, 2009
From the executive summary of Making amends: restorative justice in Northern Ireland:
This report examines recent youth justice reform in Northern Ireland, focussing particularly on the operation and outcomes of the Youth Conference Service, which is part of the Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland.
Many of the youth justice reforms in Northern Ireland derive from the Criminal Justice Review of 2000. This led to the youth justice system adopting a statutory aim of protecting the public by preventing offending and reoffending by children, to the introduction of new community sentences and to the setting up of the Youth Conferencing Service.
The service, which takes a restorative justice approach to tackling offending by young people, was established in 2003. Its primary aims are to reduce levels of reoffending and to meet the needs of victims of crime, and early research evidence indicates that it is enjoying some success in these terms. The introduction of youth conferencing appears, moreover, to have contributed to an overall decline in the use of custody for young offenders in Northern Ireland.
- The Youth Conference Service was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003 – since then, more than 5,500 referrals have been made to the service.
- There are two types of conference – diversionary, where a young person is referred prior to conviction, and court-ordered, where a young person is referred post-conviction.
- In 2006, the combined reoffending rate for youth conferencing was 37.7% - this compared to 52.1% for community sentences and 70.7% for custodial sentences.
- Between 2003-05, a quarter of all referrals were for violence against the person offences.
- Victims were present in two-thirds of all conferences held in 2008-09 – 89% expressed satisfaction with the conference outcome, and 90% said they would recommend it to a friend.
- The number of children sentenced to immediate custody in Northern Ireland dropped from 139 in 2003 to 89 in 2006.
- In addition, the percentage of convicted young offenders sentenced to custody fell from 10% in 2004 to 7% in 2006, whilst the percentage receiving a youth conference order increased from 1% to 23%.
- The ratio of the 10-17 population in Northern Ireland who were sentenced to custody in 2006 was 1:2265 – in England and Wales the equivalent ratio sentenced to custody in 2006/07 was 1:760.
- Nearly two-thirds of children in the Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC), the main secure facility for children, are on remand.
- Despite a Youth Justice Board commitment to placing restorative justice at the heart of the youth justice system, its use in England and Wales has so far been limited.
- The number of children sentenced to custody in England and Wales more than tripled between 1991-2006.
Read the full report online.
The BBC news report on the study is available here.