Monday, January 12, 2009

Reforming young offender laws won’t enhance public safety: academics

Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, January 11, 2009

"OTTAWA -- Canada's revamped young offender laws -- described by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as an 'unmitigated failure' -- have in fact been a clear success in keeping adolescents out of court and custody without increasing youth crime, concludes a new academic analysis.

The three authors warn against the Harper government pursuing a promise to toughen the Youth Criminal Justice Act, arguing it won't enhance public safety, but it will cost provincial governments significantly more money to punish young people by incarcerating them...

"When the act was adopted in 2003, Canada had one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the world. Those numbers have dropped a dramatic 36 per cent in the last five years, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.

'Without increasing youth crime, the new laws have resulted in a very significant reduction in the use of courts and custody for adolescent offenders in Canada and hence allowed for a significant reduction in spending on youth courts and custody facilities, generally accompanied by shifting resources to community-based programs,' note Bala, Carrington and Roberts.

The revamped laws, which set out clear rules on when judges can impose incarceration, have also reduced a patchwork of practices from province to province, the analysis said.

Not only are fewer adolescents being incarcerated, there also has been a dramatic drop in the number being charged by police as they seek alternative rehabilitative measures such as community programs, counselling, apologies to the victim, and other 'extra-judicial' measures."

Read the whole article here.

I was glad to read about the reduction in incarceration rates, but I wonder about the actual drop in the committing of crimes by youth. It would seem that there has been no reduction: "While youth crime in general has not increased, violent crime in some cities has been on the rise, Bala acknowledged."

I tend to agree with Stephen Harper's sentiments: "Last summer, Harper denounced Canada's approach to handling young offenders as 'an unmitigated failure' in that it did not 'hold young lawbreakers responsible for their behaviour and . . . make them accountable to their victims and society.'"

I think that they should revamp this particular system to emulate the circle systems being adopted by many First Nation communities and judicial districts, where the victim, the offender, and various members of the community come together with the judge in a circle, and work it out with everyone involved. This has worked marvels in some communities, dropping the rates of crime significantly, from what I understand. It also results in effective consequences for the accused, such as banishment. Further, it allows for reconciliation between the victim and the offender in many cases. For example, there can be an apology, or direct restitution. The community is involved (i.e. Elders), and this is very effective towards accountability for the accused.

I really think that if youth had to actually sit down in a circle with a judge, the victim(s), their parents, their grandparents, their teachers, and members of the community, they would think twice about committing a crime again. Many youth now probably feel that the punishment is relatively easy, and there is no direct accountability. For some, youth detention, or community service might even be a step up from their current any case, I think reform is necessary, especially with all of the gang activity in some of the larger cities.

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