Home > Beyond Greentown: children’s involvement in criminal networks.

Guiney, Ciara (2018) Beyond Greentown: children’s involvement in criminal networks. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 65, Spring 2018, pp. 21-22.

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On 13 February 2017, Dr Sean Redmond, adjunct professor of youth justice at the School of Law in University of Limerick, launched the Lifting the Lid on Greentown report, which examined the effect of a criminal network on the offending behaviour of children between 2010 and 2011 in a regional Garda sub-district outside Dublin referred to as Greentown.1,2

Purpose and method

Work in this area is ongoing; a second study aimed to determine whether the results of the original study could be extended beyond Greentown.3 Similar to the first study, three research questions were addressed:

  1. Is there evidence of children sharing the same general profile found in the original Greentown study in localities across Ireland?
  2. Is there evidence of children’s involvement in criminal networks found in the original Greentown study in localities across Ireland?
  3. If so, is there evidence of hierarchical difference in such networks that are determined by membership of dominant families?

Survey respondents

Garda juvenile liaison officers (JLOs) who were involved with the Garda Diversion Programme (GDP) across Ireland were invited to respond to a survey exploring their knowledge of the involvement of children in criminal behaviours. The response rate was high (90%) and indicated that all local Garda sub-districts were represented in this survey.


Responses from JLOs suggested that the profile and experiences that children had in other criminal areas across Ireland were in the main similar to those found in Greentown. For example:

    • 86% of JLOs reported that children, in particular males (94%) aged 16 to 17 years (71%), took part in serious and persistent crime.
    • JLOs believed that one in eight children involved in the GDP in rural and urban areas fit the same profile as those found in Greentown
    • Risk factors included a range of vulnerabilities; for example, being out late at night unsupervised, taking alcohol (97%) and taking drugs (88%). Welfare issues were also evident, for example, 77% of children were involved in welfare investigations.
    • This lifestyle was deemed to appeal to young people as it provided access to drugs/alcohol (91%) and money (95%), on one level, and respect (89%), power (87%) and a sense of belonging (81%) on another.

Consistent with the Greentown study, evidence based on three indicators suggested that some children participated in criminal networks in these areas:

  • Children referred to JLOs mainly lived in poorer areas (80%) with excessive antisocial behaviour (79%). Neighbourhoods were dominated by fear, intimidation and coercion. For example, residents were afraid of negative repercussions (80%) and believed those involved in crime would follow through on violent threats (84%). In consequence, crimes are not reported (72%) and no one will act as a witness (73%) to bring offenders to justice. A number of these children participated in criminal networks.

  • Children participating in criminal networks learned practical skills, such as committing crime (86%), manipulating the justice system (91%) and manipulating authority (86%), from adults who had the most influence over them. Notably, these children were not likely to be loved or appreciated (43%).
  • JLOs emphasised the challenges for children to disengage from crime. This was influenced by the level of trust (71%) and bond (71%) between the adult and the child. Moreover, having friends that were mainly involved in crime was viewed as a major barrier to disengagement (72%). Making children accountable for their criminal actions (65%), the desire to disengage (54%), and having an effective path away from crime (60%) were thought to be factors that would deter offending behaviour in children.

The Greentown study indicated that the criminal network revolved around one dominant criminal family. Children related to the family, referred to as family members, thereafter benefited from having a higher status than children that were not related, referred to thereafter as associates. In addition, family members were ‘relatively sheltered’ and did not have the same welfare issues. In this study, some of the findings of this part of the analysis were in contrast to the findings of the Greentown study. In the main, JLOs reported that family members were at higher risk and received less protection than associates. For example:

  • The majority of family members participated in criminal activity before the age of 12 (92%), which was more than twice the proportion reported by associates (42%).
  • In general, children involved with serious and persistent crime were viewed as vulnerable and as having complex needs. However, the results showed that family members were unlikely to experience protective factors. As illustrated in Table 1, JLOs believed that associates were more likely to experience higher protective factors than family members.

Despite these findings, there was also evidence in support of the findings of the original study. Consistent with the Greentown study, for example, the majority of family members became involved in crime in order to live up to the family reputation (97%), to feel protected (77%), and because they believed that they had no choice (54%). Family members were also 50% less likely than associates to move to a new location to disengage from the network, from family members (34%) and from associates (60%).

Moreover, similarities were evident regarding the home life experienced by children. Parents of family members were more likely to be involved in crime (92%), convicted within the last six months, and were more likely to encourage criminal behaviour in their children (80%) than parents of associates, 37%, 17%, and 42%, respectively. However, in contrast to the Greentown study, parents of family members were more likely to have problems with alcohol and drugs (77%) and be argumentative with authority figures (95%).

JLOs identified how adults influenced family members and associates into criminality:

  • Family members were influenced by adults who were male (87.5%), a family member (76%), and aged over 36 years (55%).
  • The influence of this adult, more often a father, was higher if children were family members (89%). He instilled a sense of pride in the family’s reputation (86%), threatened violence (81%) and threatened aggression as a form of discipline (75%).
  • However, associates were more likely groomed by adults, who were younger non-family members (‘recruiters’, p. 2) and by building a trusting relationship (79%).


As acknowledged by the authors, a number of limitations was evident. Although the JLO response rate was high, the survey relied heavily on the perceptions of one profession. Hence, the results reported here may have been susceptible to respondent subjective bias. It utilised a cross-sectional design that only provided one ‘snapshot’ of what was happening at a specific point in time (p. 13). The authors highlighted the need to carry out longitudinal research and to avail of other sources for data collection, including other professionals, children and families involved. Further research also needs to examine hierarchical differences between those children categorised as family members and associates, as evidence in this study was contradictory.


In the main, the findings of this study have suggested that the JLO profile of children involved in serious and persistent crime was similar to the profile of children established in the Greentown study. Moreover, it is believed that these children were also involved with criminal networks. Evidence regarding the existence of hierarchies within networks outside Greentown was inconsistent.

Work by this research group continues. The Greentown study has been replicated in two other locations and they are in the process of analysing data collected from an expert panel group to inform the development of an intervention to reduce child engagement with criminal networks.

1    Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2016) Lifting the lid on Greentown: why we should be concerned about the influence criminal networks have on children’s offending behaviour in Ireland. Dublin: Government Publications. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26850/

2    Guiney C (2017) Lifting the lid on Greentown. Drugnet Ireland, 61: 13‒14. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27205/

3  Naughton C and Redmond S (2017) National prevalence study: do the findings from the Greentown study of children’s involvement in criminal networks (2015) extend beyond Greentown? Interim report. Limerick: School of Law, University of Limerick. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28326/

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