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The issue of youth crime


TRIBE Member
A story related to youth crime from todays Globe:

Young people who kill

A rash of homicides by teens has raised the call for tougher youth-crime laws. They won't work -- but social intervention will, says Queen's law professor

Youth crime is back in the news in Canada, with horrific stories from two of our largest cities. One is the race-related beating death of a Filipino-Canadian youth in Vancouver, with the reported prime suspect an Indo-Canadian youth who was already expelled from school. The other is a family slaying in Toronto, with one youth charged with killing his 12-year-old brother and attacking his stepfather, aided by two other youths.

Such stories inspire fear and calls for tougher laws. But in fact, adolescents in Canada commit about one homicide in 10, about 50 homicides a year, a rate that has actually been quite stable for many years. This, however, works out to about one per week, and the media almost always gives such cases lots of lurid coverage. Youth crime fascinates us and horrifies us. How could a teenager, someone still not an adult, be so brutal? What can we do to make our society safer? Won't tougher laws help protect our society?

Isolating or expelling troubled kids from schools isn't the answer. In fact, young people with extra time on their hands who are excluded from classes and feel excluded from society are only going to become more anti-social in their behaviour. Nor should we turn to the deterrence model -- the increasingly punitive laws favoured by some U.S. legislators -- which have no effect on the problem. Instead Canada should be looking to Europe, where more socially responsive, and effective, strategies are being used.

Warnings about youth going to the dogs are common to all societies; the ancient Greeks and Romans voiced such concerns. But patterns of offending are not the same in all societies. Canada has higher rates of youthful violence than many European countries, but a much lower rate of serious youth violence than does the United States, especially when it comes to youth homicide rates.

However, in responding to such problems, Canada has also come to rely on a formal youth justice system and youth custody to a greater extent than most other countries. Alas, this type of response is an expensive and often ineffective way to combat youth crime.

On April 1, the new Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force, replacing the much-maligned Young Offenders Act. While there were clearly problems with the YOA, much of the criticism of that act was from politicians exploiting public anxiety about youth crime.

The act places more emphasis on community-based responses to youth crime, especially for the majority of youth who commit less-serious offences. For those who are 14 or older and found guilty of the most-serious offences, the act allows for an adult sentence; the determination of whether to impose such a sentence is to be made on an individualized basis, with a judge considering the nature of the offence and the dangerousness of the youth.

While accountability concerns may justify an adult sentence for some of the most-serious young offenders, longer and harsher sentences for youth will not produce a safer society. The sad reality is that young people who are most likely to commit the most-serious offences are also those who are least likely to be considering the consequences of their acts. They are the ones who are most likely to be engaging in unsafe sex, using drugs and dropping out of school. They think that they're invulnerable.

Longer sentences will not deter them. But helping them deal with their problems will. Research has made clear that a social-development response -- addressing the social conditions that contribute to youth crime -- has great human and financial advantages.

First, our schools need to more effectively respond to children with learning disabilities and fetal alcohol syndrome. These are the kids who are most likely to offend, and most likely to be expelled; they're also the ones who most need our help. Children who are abused or neglected are also more likely to commit violent offences; we are not putting sufficient resources into preventing abuse and neglect, or in providing adequate mental health resources for troubled teens.

Putting more resources into high-risk children and adolescents can reduce youth crime. Unfortunately, it is a long-term strategy. Resources invested today will only produce a return over the lifetimes of the children and adolescents who are helped. When Canadian politicians, who face re-election every four or five years, are making resource decisions, the time-horizon for a return on a social-development approach to crime prevention may seem too far away to make the investment attractive. In times of fiscal restraint, prevention and early-intervention programs are among the first to be cut.

And so we rely on the courts. But no piece of legislation can, by itself, produce safer communities. Further, no single type of program will by itself have a significant impact on levels of youth offending.

To reduce youth crime, a range of strategies, programs and facilities is needed. While more research is needed on effective prevention and treatment, existing studies clearly demonstrate that the most-effective long-term strategy for reducing levels of youth offending, and for producing adults who are law-abiding, and productive members of society, requires a long-term investment in social infrastructure and family support, with a particular emphasis on the early childhood and preadolescent stages of life. Community-based programs that involve families and schools can also play an important role in diverting youths away from criminal behaviour. Jail-based rehabilitation (and even boot camps) may have a role for a relatively small minority of adolescent offenders.

Western European countries have lower youth-crime rates than Canada and there is every reason to believe that such an approach would have similar results here. The more punitive, deterrence-based U.S. model has not achieved its objectives. While it may serve the political function of appearing to do something about crime, it does not lead to a safer society.

We must recognize that not all young offenders can be rehabilitated or directed away from crime. In some cases a youth will, at least at some points in time, be totally resistant to change. But public fear won't help. Neither will isolation, nor simple punishment. Too often it is not adolescent resistance that results in an unsuccessful response to youth crime; rather, it is our failure to commit the necessary resources.

Nicholas Bala, a law professor at Queen's University, is author of Youth Criminal Justice Law.



TRIBE Member
Drawing attention to a couple of the passages I bolded up there ^^^^^

This author is absolutely right IMO in that tougher sentences aren't the right way to go. We've all seen how effective putting criminals in jail for longer is in the US -- sprawling prison populations, and yet crime rates continue to resist dropping any lower. Treat the problem: give those who feel outcast a place to turn to, and remove the causes that lead to this undesirable, socially negative behaviour in the first place.

The American model of justice and reform clearly doesn't work -- take good care of the roots and the flower will grow into a wholesome and valuable part of the society it was planted in to.

wayne kenoff

TRIBE Member
I'm going to play devil's advocate for the sake of discussion.

You don't have to be 18 to realize that killing another human is wrong. You learn that killing is wrong at a very young age. It's quite different than stealing, or vandalism, or drug offences, where you can't always identify a victim.

Why shouldn't murderers over the age of say, 10 or 12, be tried as adults?

I don't think we should be too hard on kids about property crime, but I would argue that we need to toughen the laws for violent crime. It's not as though these kids are too naive to realize that if they bludgeon somebody to death, they will have to pay consequences that last a lifetime. Maybe they don't care, but if that's the case, I'd rather they spend their time away from society.

new to t.o.

TRIBE Member
I think our generation is now facing an entirely new ball of wax. We'll also be dealing with kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

A prof I had who's an expert in serial killers says 1% of the population could be classified as 'psychopath'.

How are we going to punish these people.

I kinda agree with wayne kenoff - how can you not know killing is wrong when you're 16?
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TRIBE Member
^ good old medicalization :)

It's a sketchy issue these days, where the line begins and ends with "illness". I read somewhere that a guy got off a murder charge citing temporary insanity from road rage. I believe the DSM(whatever version they are on now) has put that into the good shrinks bible. Road rage, a disease?

Personally I don't think punishment is the answer. But then again I also don't belive that convicted killers should get "off" by serving time in a hospital.

Like I said it's a sketchy issue.

judge wopner

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by new to t.o.
I think our generation is now facing an entirely new ball of wax. We'll also be dealing with kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

how is our generation facing this more than any other generation? simply becase they have given it a name?

women probally consumed more booze 2 generations ago than today where generally doctors warn against it.

fetal alcohol syndrome is not a permanent condition in the sense that you are destined for a life of lower intellegence and/or a greater propensity for crime.

granted there are extreme cases with all types of behaviour and they should be handled appropriately, but the mass majority lie in the grey areas.

this would be tantamount to pre-sentencing people. if a child mis behaves they should be disciplined accordingly, not pandered to and allowed to run amok or treated so differently beacuse of the presumption that they have so and so disease.

eventually everyone will be labeled with some sort of disease or disorder and we stop treating people as thiking humans who have to make choices in spite of certain limitations or upbringings.