Just 5.7 per cent of ‘at risk’ youngsters referred to crime-prevention body Youth Action Ballina have gone on to appear in court. That figure and the YAB were both praised by Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary and Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin at last week’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting in Ballina.
Gardaí and community leaders come together under the aegis of the YAB to help young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years resist anti-social behaviour and criminality.
YAB, which was established in 2000, encourages participation in a range of indoor and outdoor activities, including orienteering, rock-climbing, soccer, hill-walking. A strong emphasis is also placed on communication skills and inter-personal relationships in the family and wider community.
Pat Forde of YAB told the meeting that out of 623 referrals who were deemed to have been at risk of offending in Ballina, only 23 of those ended up in court, while just eight had subsequently been imprisoned.
Mr Forde continued, “It costs somewhere in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 a week to send a young person to prison, and I for one can think of much more beneficial ways in which that money can be spent. This project is potentially saving the State millions.”
Speaking about a recent visit to St Patrick’s Institution for young offenders, Deputy Calleary said: “It’s not a place for young people. We trick ourselves in to thinking it's going to reform and change people but it’s not. It’s important we keep young people out of there.”
Juvenile Liason Officer Garda Tommy Lyons highlighted the importance of getting to young people early. “Young people don’t start criminality at 25 years of age. They start at 12, 13 and 14 years of age,” he said, adding that the truth of that statement lay in the success of the YAB programme.
“It’s wonderful to see how low the conviction rate is,” Deputy Michelle Mulherin said, adding: “When the country is facing so many problems, it is good to know how you are tackling youth crime and targeting kids who are dropping out of school. [YAB] gives hope.”