Catholic children three times more likely to be locked up

Posted By: July 01, 2019

Catholic children are three times more likely to be locked up at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor, Co Down.

 Allison Morris. Irish News.Belfast. Monday, July 1, 2019

The children’s commissioner has said authorities must work out why young people from Catholic backgrounds are three times more likely to be detained in custody.

Young offenders aged from 10 to 17 are held in Woodlands Juvenile Justice Center in Bangor.

The center run by the Youth Justice Agency provides education and addiction programs for the young people, many of whom come deprived backgrounds and from the care system.

But while the number of children in custody is decreasing annually, the proportion of Catholics has increased.

In 2017, more than three-quarters – 76 percent – of the children detained in the juvenile detention center came from a Catholic background.

NI Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma said an in-depth study is needed to establish why.

“This is a consistent trend,” she said.

“We have asked various agencies what they are doing to work out why we disproportionally lock up more children from one religion than another.

“A young person in custody is three times more likely to be from a Catholic background. You can’t just produce a statistic like that and then not do any further work on the way.

“We can look at the various reasons – disproportionate policing in some areas or that some of these communities have a distrust of policing or don’t engage with earlier programs. Harsh bail settings that young people find difficult to adhere to and young people who don’t feel safe in their own community, who are under threat from paramilitaries and feel safer in custody.

“But we are just hypothesizing, so I have said to all senior managers find out why this is the case and then develop a plan on how to reduce this.”

And Ms. Yiasouma said a bigger overhaul of the justice system is required to ensure that children are not detained unnecessarily or for long periods of time.

“There is an answer – we raise the age of criminal responsibility and provide secure care places,” she said.

“We have conversations within communities about what is likely to reduce the offending and we know it’s drug abuse, alcohol abuse, social and economic deprivation, social justice issues.

“The whole criminal justice family is really letting these kids down.”

Woodlands’ director Brian Ingram said high levels of economic deprivation in places such as west Belfast and parts of Derry, where the majority of those in custody come from, may be a factor in the figures but there is “no definitive answer”.

He added that they have “no say over who the courts send” to the juvenile justice center and treat “each child as an individual”.