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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Factcheck: What did an expert on Youth Justice tell the Citizens’ Assembly about drug crime?

A UL professor said most young offenders simply “grow out of crime” without intervention.

A SPEECH AT the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use prompted disputes online as some users argued that headlines and news stories misrepresented what an expert speaker had said. 

“Illegal drug sales account for half of juvenile crime, Citizens’ Assembly told”, an RTÉ headline read, while multiple other outlets also published variations on the claim in headlines and stories.

These articles all cite the testimony of Dr Seán Redmond, an expert in Youth Justice with the University of Limerick, who spoke to the assembly last Saturday.

However, some online users disagreed with the media’s interpretation of Redmond’s comments. In a thorough Reddit post, user u/theseanbeag argued that Redmond did not make such a claim and, if he had, it would contradict previously reported statistics on juvenile offences.

A recording of the assembly shows Redmond’s speech, following a talk by a Garda representative, who warned against liberalising drug laws.

Redmond began by talking about how the majority of young offenders grow out of crime by their early 20s “without any intervention”. However, he then went on to speak about very worrying cases.

“About a thousand young people in the state are involved in much more serious crimes linked to adults, and this includes drug sales,” Redmond said.

“We think that these young people are responsible for about 50% of all juvenile crime.”

However, those statements do not imply that half of juvenile crimes are drug sales. Rather, they mean that about half of all juvenile crimes are carried out by about a thousand young people.

While some of their crimes are said to include drug sales, it is impossible from Redmond’s statements at the assembly to discern what proportion of total juvenile crime these sales account for.

In an email to The Journal, Redmond outlined the analysis he gave to the assembly.

“Every year about 12-20,000 young people are detected for committing criminal offences,” he wrote.

“Of this number the vast majority appear to simply ‘grow out of crime’ (many adults did things they regretted as young people!!).

“Given this fact it is important that the state acts proportionately – holding young people accountable for their behaviour but not mass incarceration of kids from poor communities in reformatories that we saw in the not-so-distant past.

“Of the 12-20,000 there are a smaller number (about 1,000) across the state,” Redmond said, who were, “involved in more serious crime – including involvement in drugs sales.

“These young people are more likely to be involved in co-offending with adults and involvement in criminal networks.

“We think that this group of young people are responsible for a vastly disproportionate level of all youth crime,” Redmond explained, saying that this was a pattern found elsewhere, and could account for half of all juvenile offences.

So, given that Redmond’s argument didn’t specify what proportion of juvenile crimes are drug sales, what does the data show? 

According to the Courts Service Annual Report for 2021, the most recently available, 488 orders were handed down in district courts to juveniles for drug offences. This made up about 13% of such orders given out to juveniles in 2021.

However 171 of those cases were dismissed or struck out by the court, meaning 35% of drugs-related cases against juveniles did not proceed to a judgement.

While these numbers may not reflect all crime committed by young people in the state, other available statistics also give rates far less than 50%, including the 2020 report on the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, which says drug sales made up just 2.3% of the cases they dealt with (“Simple Possession”accounted for a further 8.8%). 

Both reports show that, rather than making up half of all juvenile crimes, drugs offences make a small proportion, while other categories of crime, such as theft, saw more than twice the number of cases. 

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.