Jersey's children's rights watchdog is calling for a "different type of justice system" for young people after arrests of children doubled to 282 last year.
Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan is currently compiling a ‘Diversion Report,’ which would look into alternative methods of diverting and preventing young people from crime, arguing that for some of the island’s children in vulnerable situations, the current system isn't working.
“What we have found with our research to date is that the Parish Hall Enquiry system does not work for all children; it works for most, but then there’s a group of children that it’s not a good diversion,” she said.
The 2020 arrest figures, which were released in the Children's Commissioner's Annual Report for 2020, relate to the number of arrests, not the number of children arrested - some children were arrested multiple times.
Though the data is still currently being analysed, the Office have already observed that there is a correlation between the spike in arrests, which went up by 104% from 2019, and lockdown.
“When you look at the number of arrests month by month, actually they spike just after lockdown, and therefore we have to understand that the pandemic has had such an impact on our children, and that has to be part of what’s going on for them,” she said.
Pictured: The Commissioner said the "bulk" of the arrests were from the town area of the island.
Ms McMillan added that “the bulk" of young offending was happening in the more heavily populated areas of St. Helier, St. Saviour and St. Clement.
Information released under the Freedom of Information Law last October showed that four out of five ‘hot spots’ for anti-social behaviour from those under-18 were in St Helier:
The Commissioner said there was an urgent need for action: "We don’t want to spend a year watching the crime rate increase for children, so we’re planning to a roundtable discussion in the next few weeks.”
She explained that there was a need for children's voices in her 'Child Friendly Justice' research.
“We’re currently talking to children who’ve been arrested, who’ve been incarcerated, we’re talking to children who’ve attended the Parish Hall Enquiry, we’re talking to children who are victims of crime as well, so we shall be able to report what children say is going on."
Pictured: The Children's Commissioner said that new 'diversions' needed to be established for young people in vulnerable situations, for whom the Parish Hall Inquiry system is not working.
Intertwined with this work, she is developing a ‘Diversion Report’, due to be finished for the summer, which will focus on the way in which children are diverted away and prevented from committing crime.
On this topic, the Commissioner noted that for a group of the island’s children in vulnerable situations involved in crime, such as those looked after by the Minister, excluded from the mainstream school system, or from abusive homes and families of past offenders, the Parish Hall Enquiry system is not working.
“What it’s showing to us is that on the island, we’re lacking that community based intensive support, we just don’t have it here.
“We do have a really good youth service, and they do some support, but they don’t do targeted support.
“They almost wait for the children to commit a crime and then say what do we do about it, rather than get hold of them earlier, and that’s where the prevention bit comes in and that equally is weak on the island.”
Pictured: Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan wants to see a rethink of the youth justice system.
Ms McMillan added: “You can see that these children need something a bit different… being arrested isn’t going to help, we need a different type of justice system for them.”
The topic of youth crime has been a recent topic of local discussion following the early-hours break-in to St. Brelade restaurant Off The Rails, which saw a number of masked intruders steal iPads, tills and professional kitchen knives. Police said yesterday that they had identified six suspects, all aged 14 to 15.
Then this morning officers put out an appeal for witnesses after three young males attempted to steal a handbag from a woman last night.
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