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PSNI presence and ‘postcode justice’ undermining effective youth work


Máire DrummFollowing revelations contained in an in-depth media report which raises major concerns that the PSNI is operating a system of ‘postcode justice’, éirígí representative for the Colin area, Máire Drumm, has stated that similar concerns have also been raised with her by a youth worker in the area.

A report, published by the Detail TV, analysed the use of ‘discretionary disposals’ which permits PSNI personnel to decide on the spot who can avoid a criminal record and going to court for minor offences.

Based upon a Freedom of Information request, the report shows that South and East Belfast (District B) had the highest number of discretionary disposals per 1,000 people. This amounted to almost three and half times more than the number issued in North and West Belfast (District A).

Between April 2010 and March 2012, North and West Belfast had almost six times more juvenile arrests than discretionary disposals. In contrast, South and East Belfast only had two and a half times more juvenile arrests than discretionary disposals during the same period.

The result means that greater numbers of young people from North and West Belfast are being given criminal records than their counterparts in more affluent areas of the city or in predominantly unionist communities.

Policy Co-ordinator for Include Youth, Paula Rodgers, was quoted in the media report as stating, “We have young people more likely to be affected by this policy and we’re also concerned about the arbitrary nature of how it’s being carried out.”

Ms Rodgers also stated, “Looking at the figures the first question that comes to mind is why are there different levels of discretion in certain areas, particularly across Belfast?”

She also further said, “The danger is that if it’s happening differently in different areas potentially we could be saying this is postcode justice.”

éirígí’s Máire Drumm said that youth workers in nationalist areas are being placed in an invidious situation whereby their work is being undermined as a result of what is a clearly partisan policy.

The youth worker who contacted Ms Drumm also repeated his concerns to a Belfast-based newspaper.

He stated that it is evident that some local community groups and certain elected representatives are ignoring the major lack of mistrust that young people have for the PSNI. He said that by inviting the PSNI to sit on community and youth committees, that presence is having an adverse impact on the ability of youth workers to work effectively with young people.

The youth worker said, “This PSNI presence is having a negative and adverse impact on our ability to carry out our work with young people on the ground. As a result of decisions over which we have no control or influence, young people see us as being involved with the PSNI. Those decisions are being made by others and are being forced on to workers.”

The youth worker went on to say, “These new facts provide clear evidence of the PSNI pursuing a partisan approach. The PSNI is not viewed in a positive light by most young people. All they seem to do is give young people hassle. As a result, where local youth service providers are seen to be engaging with the PSNI then that is having a knock-on effect as that engagement is viewed in a very negative light by young people.

“This is having an adverse impact by undermining those positive relationships which youth workers on the ground have built-up with young people within our community.”

Máire Drumm said, “The clearly discriminatory manner by which the PSNI is using these so-called discretionary disposals reflects what many young people in our community are experiencing and reinforces the view of many young people that they are being treated unfairly.

“This is clearly having an impact on the ability of local youth workers to carry out their work effectively. Even though youth provision in the Colin area and the wider west Belfast area is already overstretched and underfunded, it is essential that young people are encouraged to engage with existing youth service provision.”

The éirígí representative continued, “If young people are of the view that the presence of PSNI personnel on local committees or on youth projects is acting as a barrier to engagement by those same young people, then that barrier should be immediately removed.

“Furthermore, where such a PSNI presence is restricting or preventing any youth worker from carrying out his or her work to the best of their ability, then those workers’ employers must take immediate steps to ensure that the needs of their workers and young people come first.”

Máire Drumm concluded by stating, “A key principle underpinning all youth work and youth service provision is that children and young people must be valued and listened to.

“It is essential that young people and youth workers should be empowered partners in the processes and opportunities that youth organisations provide in ways that help young people address the responsibilities and requirements placed upon them as members of our communities. Many young people would see the PSNI as a barrier to that.”


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