If we are to change young offenders, we must reform our flawed system
I am delighted that the management and unions in Oberstown Detention Campus are once again discussing how to agree the way forward for industrial relations in the centre. While I am hopeful that a resolution can be found for all of those involved at Oberstown, I feel that this issue has raised some real questions about considering alternatives to detention, so that children and young people receive services sooner rather than later.
Preventing children from entering the youth justice system needs to be a priority from the very first time that a child interacts with the system across health, education and justice. The first time a child comes into school without food, or they miss days without reason or they are reported as at risk of abuse or a concern for risk-taking behaviour - these are all opportunities for society to help them recover and it is our duty to protect them at those points.
No child reached the point of criminality which will lead them to Oberstown without our system already knowing about them. So what can we, as aState and as a people, do better? We need to recognise that while alternatives to detention must be explored, Oberstown is our reality, and it may be our last opportunity to positively change some of these young people, rather than assume it is too late. Simply locking young people up does not work and we need to be brave in establishing a new way of doing things, to ensure that any of the young people who are ready to change will have all the support and assistance necessary to do that.