“I welcome the clarity of this report and hope with the return of the NI Executive, and as we move out of the health Pandemic, more focus can be given and action taken to changing the lives of these children, many of whom have experienced trauma and other adversities leading them to becoming involved in the justice system.
“It is far from acceptable that the Youth Justice Agency (YJA), charged with looking after these young people, yet again, cannot provide value for money in terms of the outcomes of their interventions, or that a fully developed specific transformation strategy to coordinate the delivery of services, policy and interventions is lacking.
“I am concerned the YJA appears to be at risk of ‘mission drift’ as it continues to turn its focus to early intervention and prevention, work that may be better undertaken by community based organisations.
“In addition, my review of Youth Justice in my ‘Statement on Children’s Rights’ report released earlier this month, shows there has been little significant progress in the implementation of children’s rights in the Youth Justice System. There must be a push now to make sure the system is child rights compliant. This would help to guide the overall strategy to act in a child’s best interests.
“I am pleased to see that care at Woodlands remains praiseworthy and the decreasing numbers of young people entering the overall system. However, we continue to have high levels of un-sentenced young people in custody with a disproportionate number of them being part of the care system. I am hopeful the proposed joint secure and custody campus has the potential to positively effect this situation and I will be providing robust advice as part of the consultation.
“Too many young people are also waiting far too long to get their cases resolved. These delays in the justice system are harmful to young people and performance on this front has actually been deteriorating in recent years.
“I am optimistic that with the return of the Executive we will now begin to have serious debates and discussions concerning the fundamental changes needed within the youth justice system in Northern Ireland, including further integration into the broader child care and youth work systems.
“It is also of utmost importance that we move on raising the age of criminal responsibility here from 10 to at least 14. This would be in line with international best practice and existing evidence, with science telling us that we are doing more harm than good by criminalising children at this early age.”