The island of Ireland is comprised of 32 counties and divided into two regions occupied by separate governments. The Republic of Ireland covers a majority of the island and has distinct legislation guiding its youth justice systems. There is a lack of research and statistical data on crime in Ireland (Seymour 2006) so this section will explore the legislation that shapes youth justice in the Republic of Ireland.
One of the first pieces of legislation to address youth justice in the Republic of Ireland was the Children Act of 1908. The Act specified punishments for youth delinquents but was criticized for its low age of criminal culpability (age seven) and its focus on youth institutionalization instead of rehabilitation (Seymour 2006). After nearly a century, the Children Act of 2001 superseded the 1908 Act.
The Children Act of 2001 abolished youth imprisonment for those under age 18, made detention a last resort, and expanded community sanctions for youths. The Act created three levels of probation: residential, intensive, or activities training. It also increased parental responsibility, which in some cases means that parents must pay compensation for their child’s offense or take parenting skills or drug and alcohol abuse classes. The Irish government fulfilled the Act by allocating more resources toward community-based alternatives, which include day centre activities, mentoring programs, placement in the care of a “suitable person,” and restrictions on movement. (Seymour 2006).
The 2001 Act encourages youths to take responsibility for their actions. For youths that accept responsibility, courts usually recommend diversionary outcomes. The Act also encourages the least restrictive punishment so that youths can remain with their families, continue to attend school, and enjoy rights that are comparable to adults (Office of the Minister for Children).
The transition from the 1908 Act to the 2001 Act has created problems. The Republic of Ireland experienced delays implementing the new legislation so many provisions of the 1908 Act remain. Although the Children Act of 2001 called for an end to youth imprisonment, the abolition of youth prisons has been stifled due to a shortage of alternative placements. There are approximately 50 youths under age 18 housed in an overcrowded facility that resembles a prison (Smyth 2011). Ultimately, the 2001 Act will not be successful unless the government commits to prioritizing a shift in funding from imprisonment to community sanctions.