NI: Ford welcomes scoping study on children in the justice system

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

Justice Minister David Ford has welcomed the findings of a scoping study on children in the justice system.

Mr Ford told MLAs the steering group launched in May had reported back with “a range of innovative proposals for change that will require a fundamental shift in how the system views and responds to children who offend”.

It calls on the Department of Justice to put welfare at the heart of the criminal justice system; to maximise community involvement and increase exit points from the justice system; and develop the disposals available to the judiciary and reduce the use of custody to make it truly a measure of last resort.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr Ford said: “We are rightly very proud that the youth justice system in Northern Ireland is underpinned by restorative practices, and the proposals from the Scoping Study continue this policy.

“However, if we are to make real progress we can no longer treat aspects of a child’s life – for example offending, truancy, mental health or addiction problems – as separate problems for separate services. The emphasis needs to be on individual, tailored responses which address needs and give the child, and their family, every support.

“The earlier we can provide effective support and services for children who offend, the less likely they are to repeat their actions and get drawn into a life of crime, thereby reducing the likelihood of future victims. Diversionary, court-ordered community sentences, as well as custodial options, are now being considered as effective approaches to disposal, with restorative practices and victim engagement also part of the process.

“It should also be remembered that many of the children in our youth justice system have themselves been the victims of crime – some of them very serious – and we also have a duty to protect them, regardless of their actions.

“It is not possible for the criminal justice system to achieve this alone. Ensuring that there is a supported response to needs will require all Departments which engage with children to act together so that there are viable alternatives to the criminal justice system. If we do this, we can shape a better future, not only for these children but for the communities in which they live.”

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