In a forlorn corner of Dublin, a sign at the entrance of a youth diversion community center warns against bringing alcohol inside the building. At a similar youth center in a low-income neighborhood of metro Boston, the sign at the front warns against bringing in guns.
That’s just one of many differences between the criminal justice system in Ireland and the United States, as detailed by 13 professionals in the fields of law enforcement, youth justice, and law visiting Boston from Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Irish Institute at Boston College hosted the exchange fellows, who spoke to Irish Network-D.C. on 3 June before returning home.
Youth justice worker Ashling Golden of Dublin made the observation about the two signs. She said programs that divert young people from the criminal justice system have resulted in youth crime dropping to seven in 100 from 13 in 100. Such programs, she said, are much less expensive than imprisonment.
Sgt. Gavin O’Reilly of An Garda Síochána said gun crimes are on the rise in Ireland. He observed that Boston and other American police agencies seem to do a better job of sharing information across agencies, but added the relationship between law enforcement in the Republic and the Police Service of Northern Ireland is improving. O’Reilly also said the U.S. does a better job of engaging third-party partners from the community to help police deal with troubled youth.
Maura McCallion, division head for the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, told me that while many Catholic and Protestant youth in the north have fallen away from the practice their religion, they still hold tightly to those community identifications. And that continues to cause problems in the flash points of Belfast and other parts of Ulster.