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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Youth Justice proposed reforms are a "backwards step" and will not reduce or prevent youth crime

The Conservative government hopes changes proposed Tuesday will make "protection of society a primary goal" of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he wants to give judges the power to consider non-criminal behaviour when sentencing Canadians under age 18.

Such behaviour would include a "casual attitude to the law [and] complete lack of empathy for the victim," said Nicholson, flanked by the mothers of two youths who were killed by young offenders.
The changes would also permit sentencing judges to take into account evidence of previous brushes with the law that did not result in charges or convictions.
The amendments are dubbed "Sebastien's Law" in memory of Sebastien Lacasse, a 19-year-old Quebecer stabbed to death by a group of youths after making racially charged comments about his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend at a house party in 2004.
The 17-year-old ringleader pleaded guilty and was sentenced as an adult.
The proposed changes come as youth crime is on the decline in Canada. In 2006-2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 56,463 youth court cases across Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
That represented a slight rise — 0.34 per cent — over 2005-2006 but was a 26 per cent drop from 2002-2003, the year before the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect, when there were 76,153 youth court cases.
The Conservatives vowed in 2008 to reduce protections under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for young people convicted of serious crimes.

New Brunswick's child and youth advocate is criticizing the federal government's youth justice reforms as a step backwards.
Bernard Richard told the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights on Thursday that the federal government's proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would send more young people to jail.
"I think it's contradictory with the existing legislation. It's a totally different approach. I think we're going backwards, back to the Young Offenders [Act] approach, which allowed us to have an extremely high incarceration rate of youth as compared to other advanced, civilized nations and developed nations," Richard said.

"I think there is a contradiction there in terms and unfortunately it takes us in the wrong direction."
Richard told the Commons committee he worries the proposed changes will lead to more spending on jails.
He also told the federal politicians he's concerned that if the reforms are implemented there may be less money spent on innovative approaches to treating young people with mental health or severe behaviour disorders.

Ashley Smith comparison

To illustrate his concerns, Richard raised the tragic case of Moncton teenager Ashley Smith, who died in an Ontario prison when she was 19 in October 2007.
Smith was sentenced to a month at the Miramichi Youth Centre in 2004. But the Moncton girl remained in custody for more than three years, racking up internal charges that kept her in the detention centre.
She eventually made it into the adult system where she ended up at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.
Smith choked herself to death in a prison cell, prompting an investigation by Richard as well Howard Sapers, the federal correctional investigator.
"During those three years, [she] spent two-thirds of her time in segregating, solitary eight by 10 cell lights on 24 hours a day," Richard told the committee.
"And if she didn't suffer from mental illness when she went in she would have when she came out and I would have as well."
The Conservative government unveiled the proposed reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in March.
The changes are intended to give judges the power to consider non-criminal behaviour when sentencing Canadians under age 18.
The proposed changes come as youth crime is on the decline in Canada. In 2006-07, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 56,463 youth court cases across Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
That represented a slight rise — 0.34 per cent — over 2005-06 but was a 26 per cent drop from 2002-2003, the year before the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect, when there were 76,153 youth court cases.

I think these changes in youth justice, would be more harmful than beneficial. The emphasis for sentencing of youths should be rehabilitation and reintegration, not punishment. Sending more youths to prison will only cause further overcrowding and increase the chances of re-offending as prisons are the schools of crime and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration. This is not in society's best interests. Prisons fail at addressing the root causes and underlying contributing factors of criminal behaviour, which means it is not a long term solution. Getting tough on crime does not make society safer, as more offenders will be released, with little rehabilitation and assistance. The Conservatives base their tough on crime policies on an emotional response, and their policies are not evidence-based, rational, reasonable or logical. Tough on crime approaches were an expensive failure in the US.. what makes them think it will be effective here in Canada? Especially when crime rates are currently decreasing? Why is there a need to get "tougher"? We should not be emulating the American model. Building more prisons and spending billions to incarcerate more people for longer periods, is draconian in nature and it will not help to prevent, deter, or reduce crime. Imprisoning more people is a short term, quick fix that will end up creating more hardcore criminals rather than rehabilitating and helping youths, who often come from impoverished backgrounds and families. Prison should always be a last resort and not over-relied upon. Incarceration should only be used in rare cases where the individual poses a danger to society. We should not imprison those who are addicts, mentally ill, aboriginal, drug/property/non-violent offenders. Over-relying on imprisonment means that more aboriginals will be incarcerated. Jail time will not cure the poverty, addictions and other problems that plague aboriginal communities. Thanks to mandatory minimums, there are a disproportionate number of socially disadvantaged and marginalized individuals in prisons. They are more likely to be imprisoned and that is discriminatory. Getting tougher through mandatory sentencing doesn't deter crime but only caters to the portion of the public who are vengeful and ignorant at the prospect of inflicting harm on others. We need judicial discretion to consider all of the circumstances. The emphasis of our justice system needs to be on rehabilitation not on punishment. Clearly, the Liberal justice policies were working, because crime rates have been decreasing for the past 25 years. With these new Conservative tough on crime policies, I predict that crime will start increasing. We do not need to get tough on crime when crime rates are decreasing. Throwing more youth in prison will only make them better criminals and more involved in the criminal lifestyle. 

I am proud to be known as a "bleeding heart" Liberal. At least I have compassion and sympathy. It's better than having no heart at all. At least the liberals are attempting to solve problems such as poverty, unemployment and neglect. The Conservatives do nothing to solve poverty, and love to punish criminals. Conservatives could care less about preventing or reducing crime, as the research shows that getting tough on crime is ineffective and actually increases recidivism. They are imprisoning more and more people and not doing anything to help the disadvantaged and marginalized populations in society. 

Recently the government of Canada has introduced the following measures regarding crime and punishment in Canada:

1. Increased mandatory minimum sentences.
2. Eliminated credit for time served in preliminary detention facilities.
3. Made it more difficult to obtain a pardon.
4. Eliminated O.A.S. payments for inmates over 65 years of age.
5. Increased punishment for young offenders.

The measures outlined above are short-sighted and will have the following consequences:

More offenders will be spending more time in incarceration, diligently aquiring the tools of the trade to become a hardened criminal, thus become a future burden to society.

Those unable to obtain a pardon will have limited travel and employment opportunies, thus more likely to go on welfare or unemployment, again a future burden to society.

O.A.S. payments to seniors in prison is such a minuscule issue that it's hardly worth mentioning, except for the revenge freaks out there.

Increasing punishment for youth offenders goes against every study ever conducted and once again serves to increase potential harm to society in the future as youthful indiscretion is transformed in to ever increasing incarceration instead of rehabilitation and reintegration

What is sadly lacking is any serious effort to come to terms with the causes of criminal behaviour, early intervention strategies, and best practices to improve the future behaviour of offenders.
Apparently, the Harper Conservatives are only copying the failed US system instead of studying the successes in civilized, developed countries.

A "tough on crime" approach where people do little more than pound their chests and lock up everyone they can easily sentence simply turns out tough criminals. Having worked with incarcerated young offenders, I can assure you that there is no more effective method or location for training future criminals than a youth jail.

Yes, there are young people who require incarceration, and some who must be dealt with as adults, but current laws allow for this. What society should be demanding is early intervention to reduce the number of youth who become adult criminals. That is not the outcome of a lock-em-up, tough-on-crime approach. Money would be far more effectively spent providing activities in schools and communities so that all kids--regardless of family income or interest--can have ready and free access to alternatives to drugs and crime. And I don't mean funding for elitist sports that spit out the unworthy; I mean activites that are open, welcoming and relavent to any kid.

As for young offenders doing the time for their crimes, unlike adults, young offenders aren't released after completing 30% or 50% of their sentences. A six-month sentence for a youth means six months, and so is the equivalent of a year's adult sentence.

When our government stops focusing on the citizen and only focuses on the crime, you can rest assured that we will have more of the latter.

The Harper Conservative government does not care about evidence based policy. They are trying to appeal to "fire and brimstone", bible thumping evangelicals, the fearful, and the ignorant who don't know that crime rates have been steadily declining.
This "hateful", irresponsible group of Harper cons KNOW their policies are regressive and harmful but I believe Harper covets the US for profit prison industry and wants to use our legislature to pass laws that will fill prisons with the poor, minorities, and addicts. There is HUGE amounts of money in it. Harper will have our police militarized and bashing down the doors of peaceful, non violent people while at the same time confiscating their property. Harper wants to appoint "Czars" accountable ONLY TO HIM so as to undermine the autonomy of our bureaucracy. He would like to see as an example a drug Czar like in the US to implement things like "cannabis has no medical value" even though science proves it shrinks tumors and safely treats a plethora of illness, just as they have done in the US.

When one steps back and summarizes his whole agenda it appears that Harper wants Canada to become the US. A corrupt regime fronting the interests of huge multinational corporations at the expense of the Canadian people.


The Conservatives: HARPER, ROB NICHOLSON, VIC TOEWS - they're evil men at heart.

These right wing, bible punching SOBs are intent on criminalizing the everyday activities of normal Canadians.

And they're intent on putting more and more decent people in newly built jails. All this justified on the FABRICATION that crime is rampant in Canada.

Using SCARE TACTICS and MISINFORMATION, the Conservatives are trying hard to shape public opinion based on hogwash, yet statistically Canada's crime rate has been FALLING since early 1990s (according to Stats Can). Canada's population is aging, and as it does our crime rate will continue to fall.

HARPER and Rob NICHOLSON, they're evil men.

Canadians are not all born with original sin, and we don't need to have a Canadian Version of original sin bestowed upon ourselves and our children courtesy of the Conservative Party of Canada.

I don't want Canada's justice system to be run according to someone's bible.

The gov't is bring forth these changes to blow smoke and fire and show that they are 'Tough on Crime'. They are trying a rational, logical approach of harsher penalties...seems like a good idea. The problem with teens is that they are often anything but rational and logical and most seldom consider the consequences of their actions.
Laws such as these new amendments depend on them being rational to provide protection, i.e. 'If i do this I'm in big trouble'. How many teens do you know that think that way?

Parents have very little power over these wizened, internet savvy tweens who quickly find out about 'child abuse' and how they can use that threat to keep their parents at bay.

Bottom line: A bigger stick to beat these kids with is NOT what's needed, better tools, support and education for parents and families IS!!!

Lock em up or not. That is the question. The problem is rehabilitation is what they need and I think weve proven prison is not effective rehabilitation. We need to do better for our young people in particular. If it is about revenge for what they have done to you I can see where you would just want to lock em up to make you feel better. If you actually want to change thier behaviour I think you will have to try something else. That might take some real effort. money, and a time commitment. or we could build bigger prisons.

we should not "punish" troubled youth.

We have a moral duty to help them where we can as long as it does not involve placing ourselves at risk.

Many of these youth did not have the opportunities, guidance and love that many of us had and it is no mystery that this would breed resentment and in some violent behavior.

However when any youth or adult has proven themselves dangerous to society they must be physically isolated from he rest of us after a fair trial.

Option 1: Send young criminals to jail so they can learn how to be a really good crook for life, while simultaneously spending a huge amount of money on locking them up (not to mention what we will now have to spend on a lifetime criminal). They will become better criminals, more criminally involved, be released with little assistance and little rehabilitation. 

Option 2: Rehabilitate young criminals to become productive members of society, without heavy criminal records that haunt them for life and keep them from integrating into society. In the process, a certain number of them will fall back into a criminal life and go to prison anyways, but a certain number of them will become productive and contribute to society.

What do you people think happens to these kids in jail? How do you think this makes them better adjusted people when they get out? How do you think this prepares them for dealing with society in a way that is acceptable to the population? The penal system is broken by design and putting more people into it means you are making more people hardened and lifetime criminals in the end.

Mr Nicholson is like a cranky old man shaking his fist and grumbling "kids and their drugs, lock em up and throw away the key!"

He is not interested in facts, experts, or peer reviewed data when implementing policy- he goes with his gut. His gut feeling says that we should copy the USA style of justice system. Look how well that is working out for them!

This is the same guy that is STILL trying to force through mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences. In 2010 this is probably the dumbest thing you can do. I'm suprised Harper is letting him do it.

The Conservatives base their policies on an emotional response not on research, evidence, rationale, reason or logic. 

Typical Western mentality, mould them to be problematic citizens and then instead of trying to help them reform you jail them just to segregate them from the "well-adjusted". Society creates these kids and then punishes them for the only way they've learned to be.

Any reversion in the YCJA is absolutely irresponsible and ignorant of how to treat youth crime.

a great many of young offenders come out of homes where there is emotional, verbal, mental and sexual abuse. No wonder they act out! These kids need rehabilitation and help with mental health issues. The small number of young offenders that are sociopathic and psychopathic need incarceration. 

Our jails are full. What are they full of? Can't all be murderers and thieves, because there aren't enough of those to fill our jails, I'm sure. No, the jails are full, because 80% of the prisoners are in for pot. Take away these "victimless" crimes, and use the prisons for those who do have victims. I'm not saying that victimless crimes should not be punished, just that they shouldn't be incarcerated.

Drug dealers (prostitutes, etc) are in it for the money. Take the money away from them and then they won't want to continue... or, if the said offenses could be decriminalized and legalized, and regulated by the government, then the government rather than the offenders would make the money (and an awful lot of it too... just look at what legalizing gambling has done for them!) and let these "criminals" do things the right way, rather than the "wrong" way.

Much of youth crime starts out as dares and hazing and is not really serious stuff until they get away with it for a while. I understand that this is not always the case, but most of the stuff kids do, is just that: kids stuff. But if they get involved with more serious offenses, they need a place where they can be, yes punished, but also where they can continue to go to school, where they can get counselling, and where their parents can also get counselling on how to deal with their problem child. In this way, you try to prevent future crimes. 

Increased punishment is no deterrent. 
Again, Harper is trying to fix something that is NOT broken, instead of trying to address the real problems. The article makes it clear that youth crime is in DECLINE... why do we need to get "tougher"? The truth is we don't.

By moving away from a rehabilitation approach, Harper is literally condemning children to a life in the criminal justice system, for the sake of votes. He is sacrificing children to some sick popularity game. The man is a monster.

People who advocate prison to solve behaviour problems do not understand what prison really is.

Prison while being a useful deterrent is also a school that teaches many things.

Prison teaches inmates that society is more evil than they are; thus when they leave prison full of revenge it is much easier to do crime.

Prison teaches that police, prison guards and basically all authority are the bad guys and they must be fooled, opposed and defied at every step.

Prison teaches that the only rules that are real are the laws of the jungle. In other words victimize so that you are not the victim. In prison the inmates practice being violent and abusive for their own protection. In time one gets very good at it.

Prison teaches one how to fight (fight really well I might add). With an atmosphere of constant violence and fighting over time the inmates get very skilled. Pracitce makes perfect.

In prison one learns a career. In prison one forms special bonds with members of the criminal world in order to keep safe. These bonds often last a life time and are very valuable when one gets out and needs "employment".

Prison while having value in being a deterent to crime is also a university where inmates learn to hate society and become criminals. People who think that thowing a young person in jail will somehow make him good are very mistaken. Throwing troubled youth in prison trains them to be monsters that all of society will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

The Conservative party's crime solutions are a major step backwards for Canada and reducing crime.

Nobody wants crime but it can only be reduced with proper steps. Stephen Harper's polices will increase crime in Canada for generations to come. 

And when the Cons do away with pardons, all those young people will leave custody with PERMANENT records. What incentive then to turn one's life around?

We need only look to the American experience with "boot camps", a philosophy that's been completely discredited. Why? Because there is no support system outside the prison walls to help them STAY disciplined, and that is the fault of visionless leadership (like that of the Conservatives), who want to axe social programs. How LOW is the crime rate in the States thanks to their extreme--well, extremely profitable--prison system?

Blind-faith Con supporters should open their eyes. Harper and his ilk make this country a little more red, white and blue every day.

If we have to stop youth crime, putting kids in jail is entirely the wrong way to go about it. You may not think that it's going backwards to do so, but study after study after study by people who study these things (i.e. look at the facts and statistics, hopefully beyond their bias) will tell you that jail is not a deterrent to criminal behaviour. People (including youth) who commit crimes either don't expect to be caught, or don't care about the consequences.
If you actually want to lessen or stop youth crime, you actually have to do something about the root causes of crime - alienation, powerlessness, poverty, poor education, a lack of connection to society, and so forth. Throwing people in jail doesn't actually fix anything. The proof can be found in our clink-happy neighbours to the south, where 10% of their population is either in jail or on parole, and crime numbers aren't going down.

Canadians do not want Biblical style justice in this country. The religious zealots driving this government have no interest in what's best for our youth, but are motivated by religious ideology. 

If you want to see whether or not this "backwards" attitude to youth justice works, just look at the United States, where are a far greater proportion of their own citizens are behind bars. They even execute large numbers of their own citizens every year.

The result is (per capita):

-higher crime rate than us
-more gun crimes than us
-higher violent crime rate than us
-higher murder rate than us

Biblical style justice is moronic and it doesnt' work.

This is a government trying to put Biblical justice into place,


1) They won't apply it to their own people (for example Jaffir and Mulroney)

2) They don't support the police (who are ALL calling for the maintenance of the gun registry - which they use constantly to save lives.)

We don't need the justice system of the stone age. We don't need to criminalize young people.

It's called rehabilitation. It's unfair to throw kids in jail thinking they were acting like adults.

Punishment does not = deterrent to crime!

Punishment does = revenge!

The way to reduce crime is to look at the causes not the symptoms. At no time has harsher punishments resulted in reduction in crime rates. The only time crimes go down is when detection and convictions go up. Most 'criminals' do not expect to be caught, period. If they think there is a good chance of being caught they will be hesitant to commit the crime.

The social cost of keeping people of all ages in jail is insanity. We need fewer people in jail and better alternatives. The safety of all of us can be better served by looking for and addressing the reason crime is committed.

This so-called reform by the conservatives has been on the table for a long time ... and it's kept on the table each time Harper prorogues to avoid accountability. He likes to be able to trot out his "tough-on-crime" agenda in the hopes that this time he'll get what he wants (a majority - gawd help us!).

This so-called reform simply sounds good to those who actually have no knowledge of the empirical reality.

Youth crime rates are going down. Why the need for reform?
This is another waste of money by the conservative government.

Do we really want to spend so much on prisons (that don't indeed make us safer) that we can't afford health care?

All the reforms that the conservatives have introduced all cost tonnes of money - I think they want to bankrupt our country so that we have no choice but to privatize everything.

An offender will most likely commit crimes once released, our prison population will eventually soar and our more of our taxes will have to be taken from our education and health systems.

If you want proof, look to the United States. They struggle with major crime rates, they have the highest prison population in the world and the New York Times reported in 2008 approximately 7% of State budgets were devoted to corrections.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act may have its problems, but at least this isn't one of them. It is time the Harper Government read and comprehended available research and literature in order to come up with a more practical solution.

It's really hard to seriously discussing the governing problems of this nation when conservatives simply don't care about empirical reality.

Youth crime is declining, so the current approach arguably *is* working but they all just "know" that it isn't working, because they heard about some case in a mangled chain email they got and never even checked if it was remotely accurate. And it doesn't matter what the flaws are with the current system, the solution is always to crank up the harshness of the system.

Oh, and all the people who spend years learning about these issues, conducting research, examining evidence and knowing what they are talking about who oppose a simplistic stiffer penalty approach, well they're just "ivory tower eggheads" or some such and we should all just ignore them since they know what they're talking about.

Damn the statistics, full steam ahead with a regressive and vengeful criminal law system! Like I said, this is why we can't have nice things when conservatives have say over the government.

Clearly there are a lot of smug Con supporters here who have never actually encountered the Youth system or know anything about crime in this country.

Hot flash from the news room cons, crime has been dropping steady each year steadily since 1990. In 2003 it jumps up from the year before because of a 300% increase in fraud, because of ONE criminal. Yes, that is how low our crime rate is in some areas that a single criminal can affect the national numbers.

Crime over all has been dropping even youth crime.
So this entire bill is useless. It will do nothing about crime in general or youth crime in particular. It is not about justice or prevention of crime, but about revenge from angry, mean spirited, unthinking Cons who believe the myth of youth crime rather than the reality.

Well you are wrong and this government is wrong. These measures will do nothing. Except for cost us taxpayers more and more money to house the greater numbers of jailed youth at a time when the Cons have already put us deep into debt with their spending.

Ironic eh? All the Cons screaming that 14 year old is mature enough to know right from wrong and go to jail for life for a crime, but NOT mature enough to drive, drink, vote or consent to have sexual relations.

You are all damned hypocrites, and vengeful ones at that. And on the facts of criminal justice and youth justice, you are plain wrong. Period.

Of course it's a step backwards ... into retribution instead of prevention.

There are 2 sides to the issue. One is that many of these children need help. They come from horrendous situations and don’t have the training / upbringing that one needs to become a productive member of society. THAT being said there is a need for JUSTICE and they are still responsible for their actions. Ideally we need a system that can deliver the social help these children need, but NOT at the expense of delivering the consequences of their crimes.

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