Reform of youth justice at risk, says Audit Office

Comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly

By Michael McHugh, PA

Progress in reforming youth justice has been “patchy”, a watchdog in Northern Ireland has said.

Successful change is at risk if fundamental issues like delay are not addressed, the Northern Ireland Audit Office added.

Reoffending rates have remained stable, with those who do reoffend acting relatively quickly after release.

The level of care and support provided to young people in the Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre has been recognised for its consistently high standard, comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly acknowledged.

He said: “The system is in the early stages of reform, developing new ways of working with young people.

“It is perhaps too soon to judge, but the evidence of progress is patchy so far.”

The report found:

– Organisations within the youth justice system lack the capacity to identify and apportion the cost of the services they provide.

– Performance measurement does not yet provide a clear and comprehensive understanding of the impact of the agency’s work.

– Transforming complex public services like those provided by the youth justice system is inherently difficult.

Children in custody often have the most significant care needs.

Despite fewer cases at court, there is no significant improvement in the timeliness of completion, with a generally deteriorating performance since 2014-15.

Mr Donnelly added: “While the regime of care at Woodlands remains praiseworthy, it is not yet having an impact on reoffending rates.

“Without investment in these fundamental elements of transformation, there is undoubtedly a risk to the success of Transitioning Youth Justice.”

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