Care In Chaos

on Wednesday, 30 July 2003. Posted in Issue 32 The 'Dependency Culture': A Good or a Bad Thing?, 1998

Fr Tony O'Riordan, SJ

July, 1998



Prisoners aged under 21 make up about 33% of the prison population as against the EU average of 10%. In fact on 15 January 1998 there were 730 offenders between the ages of 15 and 21 in custody. Even more disturbing is the fact that 43% of those committed to St. Patrick\'s Institution have already served at least one previous sentence. Given this high level of repeat offending it is questionable if the prison system is achieving its objectives of rehabilitation and re-socialisation, as well as those of security and safe custody.


Most young offenders who are punished by imprisonment are committed for offences not involving violence, and most are imprisoned for relatively short periods:

· 78% of young people are committed for offences not involving violence;

· 60% of sentences are less than 12 months, and 24% are less than 6 months

After release many go on to re-offend. What can be done to break this cycle? Key to tackling juvenile crime of this sort is a response that increases the positive role that time in prison can play. But treatment programmes in prison must be such that they are integrated with community after-care when the young person is released.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Firstly it is important to recognise that for persistent re-offenders, this stage in their lives is one that has had a progressive development. These are the young people that broad-based preventative responses to children at risk have failed, for one reason or another. Figure 1 gives an overview of this progression and the corresponding intervening agency.

Fig.1: Pattern of Progression Among Young Offenders





·       Insecure attachment and inadequate bonding with a caring adult;

·       Poor stimulation at pre-school level;

·       Physical and emotional neglect.

Parents, Pre-school Groups

Barnardos, Early Start, etc.


·       School attendance where culturally prescribed goals are unattainable and/or not valued in the home;

·       Lack of educational stimuli in the home;

·       Family violence, marital strife;

·       Alcoholism, drug addiction;

·       Parental control lacking or inconsistent.

Special Classes

Health Board

Community Projects



·       Child falls behind peers educationally;

·       Child becomes disaffected;

·       Begins to assert independence;

·       Starts to truant and stay out late at night;

·       Begins to smoke/abuse alcohol/drugs/solvents;

·       Becomes involved in petty crime, joy riding, shop lifting or mugging for the following reasons:

out of necessity e.g. hunger
for social acceptance and status in a peer group
for excitement, to get a buzz
out of boredom, for something to do.

Potential Early School leaving programmes

Youth Clubs

Juvenile Liaison Scheme

Diversionary Projects



·       Court charges;

·       On probation

Probation and Welfare service

Community  Projects


·       More serious charges

·       Secure Centre/Juvenile prison

Some limited after-care Projects


·       Repeat Committals to Juvenile prison



·       Committal to Adult Prison;

·       Repeat Committals to adult prison

PACE (Workshops for ex-prisoners in Santry)

Fig.1: Pattern of Progression Among Young Offenders

In recent years there has been some development of the intervention mechanisms at most of the stages. Recent years have seen the development of 12 projects specifically targeted at young people at risk of getting into trouble with the law. However the further down the progression we go, the fewer the responses are. Apart from those working in the Intensive Probation Scheme, probation officers tend to be so over-stretched with caseloads that they cannot complete reports, let alone engage in meaningful relationships with the young people. And so another intervention fails and the young people move on to the next stage. It is at this stage (Stage 5 above) that there is no systematic intervention. Some projects do exist in areas of Dublin such as TARGET in Tallaght, but generally young offenders are released from custody and left to fend for themselves. Dublin criminologist Paul O\'Mahony found that 77% of Mountjoy prisoners that he interviewed had spent some time in St. Patrick\'s, so it is important to try to intervene at this stage to reduce this rate of progression. What can be done to help the young people at stage 5 and stage 6?

Characteristics of the Client Group

The homogeneity of the sociological background of these young people is well established. Typical offenders are from a large family, and have dropped out of school early. They have a limited experience of the world of work and are likely to have serious personal, emotional and addiction problems. In Dublin they are likely to come from a few identifiable postal districts characterised by social and economic disadvantage. Personal characteristics of this group include mixed motivation in relation to staying crime-free. They lead chaotic lives and often, due to their addiction, find focusing on, and maintaining, long-term goals difficult. They are in a network of friends, including new acquaintances from prison, that also have a similar life style. Staying drug-free and crime-free presents a challenge to break with long established patterns.

Young persons leaving prison will need drug treatment services, a routine, employment, an income, secure accommodation, and appropriate education and training . They will also need to acquire a range of skills that will help them deal with many of the ordinary daily events.

At present many do not have these needs met. This is because (a) the service is not available in the area (b) the way the service is provided is not user-friendly to this cohort (c) there is poor motivation and low level of social adequacy among this group.

A Dublin Initiative

To address this situation, one Dublin area is considering a community based after-care programme that will provide an assertive support system. Important in this response is the role of the Active Case Manager.

To clarify this: two types of case management approaches need to be distinguished, Brokered Case Management and Active Case Management. The role of the manager in brokered case management is to access the needs of the client and to arrange for the required service. The case manager will see the client only rarely and mainly in an office setting. The case load of such a manager is often as high as 60. In contrast active case managers have case loads of around 10 and they will see the client frequently (perhaps a number of times in one day) mainly outside the office. The role of the case manager involves more than just organising the required services. It also includes active intervention to help the client secure these services and offers ongoing support to the client who has difficulty negotiating the ordinary things of daily living. Often active case managers will offer 24 hour emergency cover.

The proposed after-care programme recognises that what many of the young people leaving prison require is a community based case management system that will help them negotiate the complex network of services and supports. In addition many need a supportive person who will be aware of their personal traits. For example it may be easy to arrange an appointment with an addiction counsellor but often the young person concerned needs intensive support to keep the appointment and will often need support after it. This approach recognises that these young people require individual attention. Frequent contact and monitoring of client progress will be central to this approach as will appropriate case loading. It is through this frequent contact that the case manager acquires the right to challenge the young person.

Another feature of this proposal seeks to increase co-ordination between the services and supports that are based in the community. Increased co-ordination and integration between these services (such as FAS, Eastern Health Board etc.) can help young offenders develop a framework for living and help them become crime-free. The various agencies need to develop a delivery of their services that is compatible with the chaotic life styles of many of these young people. The proposal also acknowledges the important role that family and peers play in the direction the young person will take. The case manager will also take an assertive role in relation to this aspect of the young person\'s life.

There will also be a need for some place to go for young ex-prisoners to go to that deals with their specific and special circumstances on release. In this place young prisoners can expect support, education and acquire skills. It will provide the young person with a routine and something to do, and help avoid boredom related re-offending. It will also be a place to where they can return when difficulties arise.

In the event that the young person is returned to custody, the community-based case manager will maintain contact with the young person. The case manager will also liaise with prison authorities to ensure follow-through of the care initiated in the community. This can also help the community-based services and supports to maintain the positive links with the young person while in custody, and help re-establish the active nature of these link when the young person is released.

We tend to think that law defines what crime is. This makes sense because contemporary legal codes are concerned with marking out the territory where conduct is permissible by specifying the conduct that is outlawed. Yet the earliest bodies of law – consider for example, the Torah or Hammurabi’s Code – are at least as committed to articulating the good as proscribing the bad... Read full editorial

Working Notes is a journal published by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The journal focuses on social, economic and theological analysis of Irish society. It has been produced since 1987.