Youth arrested and released 28 times for phone theft in capital
A Dublin youth who turned 16 earlier this month has been arrested and charged 28 times for the theft or robbery of smartphones from women in the city centre.
Although arrested, processed and brought before the Children's Court, the young man, who lives in the north inner city, has been automatically released on each occasion -- even though the court is aware of how many times he has offended.
He is regarded as the most persistent phone thief in Dublin and is under almost constant surveillance every time he appears in Dublin 1.
He is banned from the area under bail conditions but continues to arrive in the city centre on a bicycle to stalk young women he believes have smartphones.
All the young man's victims are female, mostly young women who are prime targets in the Dublin 1 area, the country's worst location for phone theft or robbery.
All 28 offences have taken place since September last year when he was first arrested.
Like other thieves operating in the city centre, the youth stalks young women until they take out their phones. On most occasions, he simply snatches the phones and escapes without struggle but, on a number of occasions, he has used physical violence, punching and forcing his victims to the ground.
Phone theft is one of a series of "low value, high volume" crimes internationally and exists because of the large and totally unregulated market in stolen or second-hand phones. Thieves can get from €50 up to €250 for a phone that probably cost €500.
What gardai find "totally exasperating", they say, is the complete absence of any system for detaining persistent and dangerous young criminals.
Despite years of criticism and ever-rising crime by young offenders, the State has actually reduced the number of detention places. Last year, the Finglas youth detention centre was closed and its 35 staff laid off.
At the start of 2010, there were 310 people employed in youth detention centres and this was reduced to 226 this year, according to figures from the Irish Youth Justice Service.
According to Courts Service figures, some 3,221 young offenders came before the courts in 2010 facing a total of 9,162 offences. A total of 221 were sentenced to detention but only 125 were "admitted" over 2010 to the remaining centres.
Gardai say that by the time many persistent young offenders are in their mid-teens, they are fully aware that they are unlikely to face detention no matter how many times and how seriously they offend.
The Children Act of 2001 extended the age of a "child" for purposes of criminal proceedings to 18.
Gardai in Dublin said that it was not uncommon for persistent offenders, approaching their 18th birthday, to present at garda stations with their solicitors, seeking to have all their offences brought together at one hearing before the Children's Court so they can escape imprisonment as an adult.