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University of Limerick report finds majority of youth offenders are compliant with Covid-19 restrictions

Dr Sean Redmond, Principal Investigator REPPP Programme and Adjunct Professor of Youth Justice at UL’s School of Law
Mon, 25 May 2020

A study carried out by researchers at University of Limerick has found that a majority of young people participating in Garda Youth Diversion Projects are being compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

The study was undertaken by the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice (REPPP) project, based in the School of Law, University of Limerick, with funding from the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

The report is the first in a series looking at how young people participating in the Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDP) throughout Ireland are responding to the Covid-19 public health measures. Surveys were conducted with Youth Justice Workers (YJWs) in Garda Youth Diversion Projects in the context of the Government’s Covid-19 public health measures introduced on March 12. The Youth Justice Workers were asked questions about a minority group of young people, who tend to be more marginalised.

A majority of the projects reported that this cohort of young people tended to be compliant in ‘keeping within the 2km distance’, but less so in ‘maintaining social distance’ and ‘not gathering in groups’. The majority  of projects reported that a small minority of this cohort of young people were non-compliant with the Covid-19 public health measures, for example, meeting friends in groups.

Speaking on the launch of the research report, Minister of State with responsibility for Youth Justice, David Stanton TD, commented on the help that young people are providing to their own families, and others in their community, during the pandemic.

“I was proud of our young people when I read that the majority of projects reported that young people were involved in pro-social behaviours and activities during the pandemic. These behaviours include self-care activities (including exercise, maintaining connectedness), which is so important for all of us in these challenging times. The pro-social activities range from household chores, to help out their parents or caregivers, to helping out in their community by taking on chores for elderly citizens who may be cocooning or otherwise restricting the amount of time they are spending outside the home.

“The young people of Ireland are standing up and supporting their families, and their communities, in these unprecedented times, and they should be acknowledged for this.

“It proves to me that this cohort of youth offenders are engaged with their local communities, and that they are really trying hard during this pandemic to turn a corner, and it is imperative that we support them in doing so. My Department is running an online consultation in preparation for our new Youth Justice Strategy, and I would encourage all young people to get involved and have their voices heard.”

The Minister continued: “This is an important piece of research, and I want to thank the those working in the REPPP project in the School of Law, University of Limerick, and officials in the Department of Justice for working closely together on this, and providing such a comprehensive report so quickly.

“While I acknowledge that the figures are based on a very specific cohort of young people, I am encouraged at some of these results. They demonstrate an understanding, amongst a majority of young people, of the importance of staying home, and certainly within the 2km distance that was in place for a number of weeks.

“I would also acknowledge the report from a number of GYDPs nationally that the occurrence of anti-social or offending behaviour in their communities had decreased during the pandemic.”

The report does find that a small number of young people were involved in more serious breaches, and these tended to be associated with alcohol or drug misuse.

Some projects also reported that non-compliance by adult family members and communities had a negative influence of some young people’s compliance with Covid-19 public health measures.

Speaking about the study, Dr Sean Redmond, Principal Investigator REPPP Programme and Adjunct Professor of Youth Justice at UL’s School of Law, said: “I think the news is good. The majority of young people who are linked in with a Garda Youth Diversion Project appeared to be complying with Government restrictions regarding social distancing and travel.

“A minority of young people were not complying, continuing to meet with their friends. Some are reported to have been involved in offending and anti-social behaviour, but overall this activity appears to be reduced since Covid-19.

“This group of young people represents a very small proportion of the youth population in Ireland, possibly 1/1000. However, it is an interesting group because they are young people who have been detected for committing crime and referred to a Garda Youth Diversion Project.        

“If you accept that a large amount of youth crime normally takes place ‘outdoors’ then given the time of year you might expect to see widespread evidence of public order type crime continuing.

“According to our respondents this does not appear to be the case. On the contrary we received reports of high levels of compliance and actually examples of altruistic behaviour by young people toward family members and community residents”

The study also looked at lifestyle changes for the youths in the Garda diversion projects and found that a lack of routine and structure had a considerable impact on this cohort of young people’s sleep patterns. Several projects reported that young people were connecting with other young people during the night (through on-line gaming and social media for those with access to technology) and sleeping during the day.

Several projects expressed concerns for the young people’s mental health.

While there were reports that the young people’s additional caring duties for both younger siblings and grandparents were contributing to strengthening family relationships, there were also concerns raised about increased conflict within some families.

Dr Catherine Naughton, research psychologist on the programme, explained: “We have surveyed 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects in communities across Ireland. Respondents were specialist youth workers who reported on young people involved with their project and their compliance and coping behaviours. Almost all projects responded to the survey, so the patterns are very compelling.

“The Department of Justice and Equality and Department of Children and Youth Affairs facilitated us by very quickly agreeing for our researchers to redirect their efforts toward the Covid-19 study.

“This is the first in a series of surveys with specialist youth worker reporting on young people’s behaviour in local communities during the Covid-19 crisis. While from a public health point of view we are interested in compliance with restrictions, we are also using the survey to give more rounded pictures of how young people and their families are coping and how this important project is adapting to help.”

This first report provides a generalised national view of young people’s behaviours and changes in GYDP practice since the start of Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers in the University of Limerick are working on a second report which will attempt to give a more detailed analysis of the prevalence and frequency of both pro-social and antisocial behaviours by the young people at a more localised level during this pandemic.

The first report has been published on the Department of Justice and Equality website.