Thursday, 25 March 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
6. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform the number of juvenile liaison officers that have been appointed to date; his plans to increase the number of JLOs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13128/10]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Barry Andrews): The Deputy will be aware that it is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner to decide on the prioritisation and allocation of resources in the Garda Síochána. The Garda Commissioner has informed me that, at present, there are 116 juvenile liaison officer, JLO, posts approved within the Garda Síochána and 111 of these are filled on a full-time basis. Five of the posts are vacant and the selection process for the new JLOs is well under way. The Commissioner has approved the appointment of seven additional JLOs each year for the past three years and a further seven posts will be added in accordance with the targets set out in the Garda Youth and Children Strategy 2009-2011. This will bring the total number of approved JLO posts to 123.
It is important to note that while these officers are specifically dedicated to this service, a significant number of other gardaí are engaged in working with young people on a regular basis. This applies, in particular, to community gardaí. The Commissioner has also pointed out that Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the general public. Decisions with regard to the deployment of JLOs take account of a number of factors, including the number of children referred to the diversion programme over the past three years; the number of JLOs currently employed in each division; the social background of the location under consideration; the geographical size of the area to be covered by existing JLO and demographic trends.
I am sure the Deputy will agree that the diversion programme, as operated by JLOs and the Garda office for children and youth affairs, has proven to be highly successful in diverting young persons away from crime by offering guidance and support to them and their families. The latest annual report from 2008 on the effectiveness of the diversion programme is available on the websites of the Garda Síochána and the Irish Youth Justice Service.
Deputy Joe Carey: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he agree there are far too few JLOs? I came across a parliamentary question from 1985 tabled by Deputy Alan Shatter to the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Michael Noonan. In his reply the then Minister stated there were 79 JLOs and that in 1982 they dealt with 4,743 offenders. We now have only 30 more JLOs but their workload is three times more than what it was in the 1980s. There are far too few JLOs, with probably only one in every county. We need more JLOs given the amount of offenders we have.
Deputy Barry Andrews: It is ironic that it goes back to 1985. What has changed is the overall number of gardaí, which has increased very rapidly. In my opening comments I made reference to the fact that community gardaí also play a significant role in this area and since 2007 their number has increased by 68%. They supplement and support the work of juvenile liaison officers. While we concentrate on the figures and the numbers, it is the outcome that is the crucial reference point. The number of children detained because of juvenile offending has decreased significantly over the past five years. It is the widespread view of commentators in this area that this is attributable to the success of the Garda diversion programme and the various Garda youth diversion projects throughout the country. It is a core principle of the Children Act that detention should be used as a last resort.
We must look at all of the resources available to divert young people from crime. That includes the youth work sector, juvenile liaison officers, community gardaí and the probation service, which deals with step down. The juvenile courts have been expanded significantly and judges with specific knowledge and experience in this area have a much closer case management role. This has also helped to reduce the numbers in detention and the JLOs are able to do a more effective job. It is worth noting that while there might have been 79 JLOs in 1985, there will be 123 when the current round is completed in 2010.
Deputy Barry Andrews: I have a number of draft amendments on my desk to which I am trying to get. It is very active. It has passed Second Stage and it is a matter of deciding what Government amendments will be proposed on Committee Stage. We are working very hard on trying to absorb some of the comments made by Deputies Rabbitte and Charles Flanagan on Second Stage and in particular we are considering the period of time during which the spent conviction period would apply, the category of offences to be caught and all of the safeguards that the Attorney General has examined. It came from a Law Reform Commission paper and it will require some amendment but it is being worked on actively at present.
Deputy Barry Andrews: I cannot give that information at present and I will have to come back to the Deputy. I know many junior liaison officers are doing extra courses in places such as Maynooth outside of normal Garda training. I will get the Deputy specific figures and information on what developments have occurred with regard to the commitment made in 2004.
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