Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Changes won't deter youth crime: professor

Youth Crime in Canada

OTTAWA -- Legislation to update the Youth Criminal Justice Act, including allowing violent offenders to be identified publicly, will do little to deter kids from breaking the law, a Manitoba criminologist says.
Changes to the act were tabled in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Tuesday. They also pave the way for Crown attorneys to consider asking for an adult sentence for all youths 14 years and older who are convicted of violent crimes, and make it easier for judges to sentence kids to jail time, but ensures no one under 18 serves time in an adult prison.
Nicholson said the changes will give Canadians confidence kids who break the law will be held accountable.
Rick Linden, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, said he doesn't think it will make any difference.
"It's not really breaking new ground," said Linden, co-chair of the Manitoba Auto Theft Task Force. "It's designed more for the political effect than to actually have much affect on crime."
Linden said the changes only apply to violent and chronic repeat offenders, who are the exception rather than the norm in the justice system. For youth who are extremely violent or chronic offenders, like many of the repeat auto thieves tracked by the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy, the changes will have little impact except keeping them behind bars a little bit longer, said Linden.
"Some of them are out of control and they know they're going to be picked up," he said.
As co-chair of the car theft task force, he helped design the suppression strategy that has been credited with helping cut Winnipeg's car theft rate over 70 per cent since 2005.
"If we can deliver good programming in custody that might have a positive impact on the kids," Linden said.
Keeping a young offender's name private has been a long-standing element of youth justice in Canada in both the old Young Offenders Act and its replacement, the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Only youth who are sentenced as adults have their identities made public. Nicholson's bill would mean a judge can consider lifting the publication ban on a youth's name when the kid is convicted of a violent offence but not sentenced as an adult.
Linden said the threat of being publicly named isn't going to be a deterrent because many of the kids thrive on the attention. A few years ago, there was a case in which kids convicted of auto theft had their photos in a local newspaper and were seen autographing the paper in their high school and publishing their names and crimes on websites, he said.
Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan has not seen the details of the bill but said the province has been asking for years for changes that make sentencing more effective. One thing the bill does is ensure a judge take deterrence into account when deciding a sentence, something that isn't part of the process now.
Manitoba Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said it's true the bill will impact only a small group of people but Manitoba has its share of violent and serious repeat offenders and anything that can help address them is welcome. He said he believes there is a general feeling that for serious crimes, kids should be named. Although naming violent kids may not deter them, it can be a public safety issue, he said.
"People in a community will know who they are and know what risk they pose," he said.
number of youth accused of breaking the law
number of youth formally charged with breaking the law
number of youth accused but dealt with outside court*
Youth crime rate, criminal code offences (crime rates are per 100,000)
Youth violent crime rate
number of youth accused of breaking the law
youth formally charged with breaking the law 1,887
Youth violent crime rate
youth accused but dealt with outside court*
Youth crime rate, criminal code offences
* more than 60 per cent of youth 12-17 accused of a crime are never formally charged. They, instead, are dealt with through other means.

I agree that this change will likely not have any deterrent effect on youth crime. Longer sentences, harsh prison conditions, and publishing names has been shown to not reduce crime. Prison actually causes more crime in youth once released, as they have high recidivism rates. Rehabilitation is key for youth and considering all other alternatives besides prison. 

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