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Change needed in scheme surrounding young offenders

By Laura Anderson

The Dublin City Council wants change in court system , and they want it now.

Approval from the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is the only roadblock to a major overhaul, according to Chair of Dublin City Joint Policing Board Daithi De Roiste who claims the current community court system in Dublin only exacerbates the growing problem of gang violence.

“We send 18 and 19-year-old to prison who have committed minor offenses,” said Cllr De Roiste, speaking to Dublin Live.

“They have to become tougher in prison, so to survive they build networks. They come out of prison then as real criminals, sometimes connected to gangs.”

The solution, in the eyes of Cllr De Roiste and the Dublin City Council, is introducing New York style community courts in Dublin.

Under this model, defendants who have committed petty crime such as low level drugs, non-serious assault and drunk and disorderly offences are sentences acts such as cleaning up vandalism or working with community nonprofits in lieu of jail time.

The intent is to allow low-level offenders a second chance before tossing them into the prison system, where it is easy to become involved in gang culture.

Change in court system proven successful elsewhere

Similar change in court system models have proven successful in Liverpool as well as in New York’s Midtown Community Courts, triggering a reduction in incarceration rates.

Rather than getting permanent marks on a criminal record and doing prison time, petty criminals would partake in community reparation schemes including fixing fences and cutting grass.

Cllr De Roiste expressed belief that with this system, troubled young people who might otherwise become mixed up with Dublin’s gangs would become contributing members of society through service as opposed to being removed from society completely.

Said¬†Cllr De Roiste, “This initiative could keep young men out of prison, give them a future and help the communities where they have committed crimes – there is nothing not to support in this scheme”

The Counsellor hopes hopes to link education with the courts in addition to services such as Alcoholics Anonymous, drug rehabilitation, domestic violence counselling and anger management classes.

To date the plan has been implemented in 30 more US cities, as well as in Canada and the UK.

Last year David Stanton, Chairman of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, testified that the plan could vert well prove effective in Ireland’s capital as well.

All that remains now for the proposal’s implementation is for the Justice Minister to sign it into motion.

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