Just three ASBOs handed out to young offenders since 2007
THE Government's plan to clamp down on juvenile crime has failed spectacularly with just three Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) handed down to young offenders, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.
Despite being introduced amid much fanfare in 2007, behaviour orders have been little used in practice by gardai, who are continuing to rely on lesser sanctions and youth diversion programmes.
Figures released by the Department of Justice reveal gardai have been extremely reluctant to apply to the Children's Court for behaviour orders.
Instead, the lesser sanction of a behaviour warning has been issued 1,324 times to children since 2007. This involves a garda warning a child about his or her behaviour and also writing to the child's parents or guardians.
Another less serious sanction, where a written undertaking is given by the child and their parents or guardian, has been used just 13 times in the same period.
The revelation comes as a disturbing new study reveals how some young children are becoming "addicted" to anti-social behaviour.
Respected University College Cork sociologist Dr Niamh Hourigan found many children and teens engaged in vandalism and intimidation are unable to stop themselves because of the "buzz" or "high" generated by their experiences.
Her study, based on three years of research, also argues that these children are being let down by the authorities, whose response does nothing to tackle the "addictive" nature of troublemaking.
Writing in today's Irish Independent, Dr Hourigan says a lack of understanding of why some children continually cause a public nuisance was seriously inhibiting the response of the authorities.
During the course of her research, which involved interviews with over 220 people, Dr Hourigan found the "buzz" of doing something wrong was repeatedly cited as a motivational factor for some children's anti-social behaviour.
Dr Hourigan said that a failure by authorities to recognise the "addictive element" was hampering efforts to tackle the problem.
She said that garda diversion programmes, which aim to get troubled children to stop anti-social behaviour by channelling their energies into sport and community activities, did not work with all children.
"For children who are more addicted to the high of the anti-social behaviour experience, the buzz of these (sporting and community) activities is not sufficient to replace their anti-social behaviour buzz," she said.
She also argues that ASBOs are of little use, as children addicted to anti-social behaviour will continue to re-offend because they cannot help themselves.
She also said the penalty for breaching an ASBO -- a fine of up to €800 and up to three months in a children's detention school -- was practically unenforcable.
"Most of the families of these children are on social welfare and would be unable to pay the fines," said Dr Hourigan. "Added to this, the detention schools are already overflowing."
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern last night insisted the small number of ASBOs handed down to young offenders did not mean the system was not working.
"In setting up the regime, the intention was that interventions short of a court order would address the problem behaviour. If they succeed, there will be no need to apply to the courts. It is only if they fail to lead to a behaviour adjustment that a court order will be applied for."
Mr Ahern also defended the current garda youth diversion system
However, Dr Hourigan said the Government needed to look for other solutions and proposed the setting-up of dedicated anti-social behaviour units. These units would be made up of civilians whose job it would be to take home children involved in anti-social behaviour, if needs be with the assistance of gardai.
"If the child goes back out onto the street having been taken home, they should be taken home again and again until the pattern of addictive behaviour is broken," she said.
niamh hourigan, page 24