Justice Minister, Naomi Long, today launched a new Framework setting out the strategic direction for the future of youth justice in Northern Ireland.
The Framework is accompanied by a 5-year Action Plan and recognises the developments which have taken place in the youth justice system over the course of the past decade.
Naomi Long said:
“We have made significant inroads into addressing offending behaviour by children in recent years and this has resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of children and young people entering the formal criminal justice system. This benefits everyone in our society, from the children themselves and their families, to their victims and the wider communities in which they live.
“My Department’s new Strategic Framework for Youth Justice recognises that in order to build upon past successes and make further improvements, the continued adoption of a “children first” approach is vital. This, and other key principles set out in the Framework will underpin all our interactions with children in the justice system.”
The Strategic Framework aims to deliver on a number of high level outcomes in order to realise the Department’s vision of “a progressive youth justice system – delivering better outcomes for children and communities.” Key to this work will be the continued delivery of, and investment in, initiatives aimed at diverting young people from the youth justice system at the earliest possible stage and the development of further measures aimed at ensuring custody for children is a last resort.
Minister Long continued:
“I do not believe that criminalising children as young as 10 is in their best interests. A key action within the Framework, therefore, is to engage the public in a debate on this, with the aim of increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland to 14.
The vast majority of children in Northern Ireland will thankfully never enter into contact with the youth justice system. For those who do, I am pleased that we now have a Framework dedicated to improving their life chances and ensuring they receive the support that every child deserves.”
The Strategic Framework for Youth Justice and associated documents (including a 5-year Action Plan) is available here.