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, April 22, 2010

Teen breached probation 24 times, but is it something to be in an outrage about?

A 14-year-old high-risk offender who caused this fatal collision in 2008 has repeatedly breached his probation, without any consequences.
The court records lay out the breaches of his probationary order in mind-numbing detail.
All told, a 14-year-old high-risk offender was able to thumb his nose at the law 24 times without any consequences, making a mockery of court orders and exposing a provincial policy to overlook breaches. The revelations surrounding the latest twist in the city's war with deadly car thieves now has Manitoba's justice minister on the defensive, arguing probation officials properly handled the high-profile case that ultimately led to tragedy.
‘We manage risk. One could say there should be no bail anywhere. There could be no parole federally. No government has moved down that road’ -- Justice Minister Andrew Swan
‘We manage risk. One could say there should be no bail anywhere. There could be no parole federally. No government has moved down that road’ -- Justice Minister Andrew Swan
‘That should just be a no-brainer... No tolerance, no leeway, no discretion whatsoever’ -- Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen
‘That should just be a no-brainer... No tolerance, no leeway, no discretion whatsoever’ -- Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen

"Frankly, if a kid is five minutes late for an appointment with a probation officer, or a kid because of his home life is late for school one day, I don't think Manitobans want that to be a reason for more criminal charges to be laid," Andrew Swan said Wednesday.
The teen -- who can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act -- has pleaded guilty to driving the speeding, stolen SUV that killed city cab driver Tony Lanzellotti on March 29, 2008. His probation officer told court this week they failed to report numerous breaches by the youth in the weeks preceding the deadly crash because they regularly give young offenders plenty of discretion.
The Free Press has learned of at least 24 incidents between Feb. 15 and March 27 where the youth was in violation of a judge's Feb. 8 order -- including 18 days of skipping school and six examples of ignoring his nightly curfew. None of the violations was ever reported to police, which could have resulted in him going back into custody.
Manitoba Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said Wednesday Lanzellotti might be alive today if the court order had been properly enforced.
"That should just be a no-brainer," McFadyen said. "Those ones have to be enforced immediately on the first breach. No tolerance, no leeway, no discretion whatsoever."
But Swan said he supports having a probation officer's "professional judgment" determine when a young offender is reported to police for violating a probation order.
Cheryl Dyck, the youth's probation officer, told court Tuesday how they will only report breaches to police if there is a "pattern of non-compliance." Crown attorney Brent Davidson, who is seeking an adult sentence of six years for the killer teen driver, suggested that will likely come as a surprise to many in the justice system, including the judges who hand down such orders.
"Have you ever seen a judge issue a discretionary probation order, where they leave it up to the accused whether they want to comply with it all of the time or just some of the time?" Davidson asked.
"I can't speak to the guidelines we follow," replied Dyck. Davidson later told court probation services gave the teen "enough rope to hang himself."
Dyck said offenders are often treated differently, depending on their risk level and criminal history. In this case, the youth began as a medium risk but was upgraded to high after his supervisors started catching him breaching probation.
Dyck said the boy's father initially called Feb. 25 to say he was regularly ignoring his curfew by fleeing the house after checking in nightly with probation officials. Dyck said they agreed to call a meeting but that never happened until March 26. By then, the youth had already been caught on five other occasions out past curfew and several times had missed school, which he was required to attend.
Dyck said he abided by his curfew on the nights of March 26, 27 and 28.
"He was at home and got back on track," she told court. On March 29, the boy called in to say he was home on time -- then fled the house as his father had previously reported. He began drinking and consuming drugs with a large group of youths loitering around a downtown apartment building armed with two stolen vehicles. The group scattered when they saw police headed their way. The boy was driving a Chevy Avalanche containing six other young offenders. He began racing a stolen Silverado that had the other seven youths, court was told. The vehicle the teen was driving reached speeds of 139 km/h -- the legal limit is 60 km/h -- and blew through two red lights on Portage Avenue before slamming into the taxi being driven by Lanzellotti at the corner of Portage Avenue and Maryland Street.
Lanzellotti, 55, died instantly. He suffered a massive skull fracture, broken ribs and legs and trauma to his brain and chest. A passenger in the cab was seriously injured.
The issue surrounding the level of discretion probation officers have in not breaching an offender was the hot-button topic in question period at the Manitoba legislature Wednesday. The Opposition Progressive Conservatives grilled Swan and Premier Greg Selinger over what they said was a symptom of the NDP's mismanagement of the province's justice system. But Swan told reporters the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, and how it handcuffs law enforcement and the courts in locking up bad kids, was to blame.
"We all struggle, frankly, with the Youth Criminal Justice Act," he said. "Every provincial government, whatever political stripe, has been calling on the federal government to take steps so that individuals who we believe are committing serious and violent crimes aren't released back onto the streets, which is what happens, unfortunately in our view, in too many cases."
Swan added he's asked his officials to look at how other provinces monitor young offenders on bail or probation, and if any further changes should be made to how Manitoba does it. Swan said a zero-tolerance policy on breaches, as the Tories have demanded, is not on the horizon. "There is not a single province in Canada that has gone down that path," he said. "We manage risk. One could say there should be no bail anywhere. There could be no parole federally. No government has moved down that road. The important thing is for our probation officers to manage the risk of people in the community."
Swan said over the past year, probation officials have brought in a new system to better monitor high-risk violent and repeat offenders.
"They will then receive more attention from probation services and make it more likely breaches will be found and there will be a remedy out there," he said.
The teen, who is now 16, is asking to remain in youth court and be given eight more months behind bars. Queen's Bench Justice Lea Duval has reserved her decision until later this spring.

As I have said in a previous post (Sentencing hearing begins for youth who killed cab driver), I completely disagree with giving this youth an adult sentence. Longer prison sentences have been proven to be no more effective than shorter sentences and for youth, they cause an increased probability of re-offending when released. 

Just because the media has discovered that this teen has breached his probation 24 times, does mean we need to be in an outrage. They are over-sensationalizing simply one incident. Probation in general, is a very successful practice and most individuals are successful on probation. We don't need to change the system. 

A breach may not be as bad as people may assume. It doesn't necessarily mean committing another offence. It could be as simple as showing up a couple minutes late for a meeting or to school. I do think youths should be given discretion. 

I still hold the position that prison is a quick fix and not a long term solution. We need to uncover the root causes of this teen's criminal behaviour and address those issues directly. This teen has his whole life ahead of him. To me, justice does not mean a harsher sentence. It means effectively addressing the underlying factors relating to his criminal activity, so to help him more effectively in the long term, by decreasing the rate of re-offending. Rehabilitation is essential for young offenders. I think his behaviour stems from the fact that the majority of this teen's family members and relatives are prominent criminals and have gang ties. This isn't exactly the greatest environment to grow up in. He has no positive role models, only negative, so how should he know any better? He likely has grown up not having or knowing any morals or values. I think a positive role model or mentor in this teen's life, could make a huge difference. 

For this teen, I would suggest 4 more months of prison, since he did breach his probation numerous times, combined with more intensive supervision when released. I would suggest family counseling, employment assistance, a positive mentor, group therapy, and drug/alcohol treatment.

We need to remember that harsh sentences do not reduce or deter crime, so really, what purpose are we using them for? We NEED (and I stress the word NEED) to deal with the issues and factors causing crime. 

If we could provide better living conditions and opportunities for the socially disadvantaged people, we could prevent crime significantly. 

If this boy had gotten help from somebody, parents, teachers, etc. to help him deal with his serious issues, that accident may not have happened. Instead of getting help, he was ignored and ended up harming someone. 

Family counseling sounds like a better option to me than prison does. This teen will eventually be released from prison, back into his dysfunctional family, and his crimes will simply perpetuate. By putting people in prison is like covering up a wound with a bandaid. It's a quick fix, but its not really solving the deeper issue or problem. If we are REALLY invested in helping this teen from re-offending and preventing crime, then we need to address his underlying issues.  

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