Public Policy On Youth Crime Essay, Research Paper
Public Policy on Youth Crime
The most recent phenomenon in today s society is youth crime, and the type of serious crimes that youths are committing. The key question that one must ask oneself is why are the children of tomorrow committing these crimes, and what measures are government organizations, and interest groups taking to deter young peoples and at the same time re-habilitating young offenders? The issues this paper will be analysing will show the comparison between the Young Offenders Act versus the Youth Criminal Justice Act, with projected changes initiated by the YCJA and who wants these changes. This paper will also discuss the alternative programs available to young offenders, and the many interest groups that sponsor these programs and deal with young offenders on a daily basis. In addition, this paper will also examine the social issues surrounding youth crime, such as, where the majority of crimes are being committed, who is committing these crimes, and why are youths committing these crimes. The final section of this paper will discuss what types of solutions the present government of Canada are prepared to initiate.
The Young Offenders Act Vs. The Youth Criminal Justice Act
The Young Offenders Act deals with young offenders charged with specific offences against the Criminal Code and other federal statutes and regulations. The YOA was revised in 1985, and was the only justice for young offenders before the age of 18. While the YOA takes consideration of the individual circumstances of young offenders, it also purports to better protect the interests of society against violent young people. Under the YOA, Canadian courts no longer play the subjective parental role, which was manifest in the Juvenile Delinquent Act. The courts now apply the same objective rights and protection to young people as is afforded to adult offenders, in addition to special provisions, which acknowledge the particular circumstances of youth and the individual offender, which could limit accountability. Thus, the Courts must consistently try to balance the necessity of young people being held accountable for their actions with the right of society to be protected.
On May 12, 1998, the Government of Canada announced its plans for renewing the youth justice system. The Youth Justice Strategy recognizes that public protection must be the principal objective of youth justice renewal. It proposes directions for new legislation and programs that address the public s concern about violent and repeat youth crime and the need for a system that promotes accountability, respect, responsibility and fairness. The Strategy takes a broader, integrated approach to youth justice reform that looks beyond changes to the law alone and includes prevention, alternatives to the courts and rehabilitation. All of these elements are essential to a youth justice system that effectively protects the public.
In comparison to the YOA, the Youth Criminal Justice Act takes a more hands on approach of handling young offenders in the system. The main aspects of the YCJA focus on the protection of the public; meaningful consequences for crimes; rehabilitation and prevention to protect the public by reducing youth crime; and, crime prevention and the use of alternative measures. Also, victims will be heard and treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their privacy, and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement in the system. Moreover, under the proposed YCJA, consequences will be more meaningful, instructing the offender about the impact of the crime and focusing on repairing the damage, or paying back society in a constructive fashion. In the case of violent and repeat offenders, repeated failure to benefit from youth sentences would make young offenders eligible for the same sentences as adults. According to a news release by the Minister of Justice,
The new Act fulfils the commitment made in May, 1998, when the Government of Canada released its Youth Justice Strategy, to bring forward new legislation that would: better distinguish between violent and non-violent crime and provide appropriate measures to deal with both: strengthen efforts to rehabilitate young people who commit crimes; and encourage the use of effective, meaningful alternatives to custody for non-violent youth.
The key forums of comparison between the YOA, and the YCJA, are the measures outside the court process, the youth sentences, the adult sentences, the publication, victims, and custody and reintegration. According to the YOA, the measures outside the court Permits alternative measures but does not authorize police and prosecutorial discretion to use other types of alternatives to the court process, and provides much less guidance on appropriate use of alternatives and what their objectives should be. In comparison to the YCJA, the measures outside the court process offer more freedoms to the police, and prosecutors to use alternative measures such as referring to community programs by prosecutors, and caution and warnings by the police. Objectives, such as encouraging the repair of harm inflicted to victims, and providing guidance are also encouraged in comparison to the YOA. Under the proposed YCJA, alternatives to the formal court process will be a central focus, increasing the involvement of communities, offenders, victims, and families to instil a sense of responsibility in the offender. Alternatives to youth court proceedings include diversion programs, family-group conferencing, circle sentencing and police warning and formal police cautioning. The central focus of alternative measures will be increasing community-based initiatives without jeopardizing public safety.
The youth sentences are another focusing issue in the comparison, and the need for a solid statement of purpose of sentencing along side inconsistent and competing principles has plagued the YOA. The YCJA, Clearly describes the purpose of youth sentences: to hold youth accountable, as well as including other specific principles, a need for proportionate sentences and importance of rehabilitation. Moreover, under the proposed changes, consequences will be made more meaningful, instructing the offender about the impact of the crime and focusing on repairing the damage, or paying back society in a constructive fashion. In the case of violent and repeat offenders, repeated failure to benefit from youth sentences would make young offenders eligible for the same sentences as adults. Sentencing options vary dramatically between the YOA and the YCJA. The YOA proscribes that there is no requirement for community supervision following incarceration. As well as, no options like intensive support and supervision or custody and supervision order for serious violent offenders. On the other hand, the YCJA encourages reintegration into the community of non-custody sentences, and creating intensive custody and supervision order for serious violent offenders. The YOA defines the ages in which sentencing and prosecution are recognized under. The YCJA proposes to make some changes to this legislation. A Child is defined in the YOA as a person who is, or in the absence of evidence to the contrary, appears to be under the age of 12 years. Young person is defined in the YOA as a person who is, or in the absence of evidence to the contrary, appears to be 12 years of age or more but under the age of 18. Section 13 of the CCC forbids the conviction of any person under the age of 12 years of any criminal offence. Under the proposed changes to the YCJA, even in exceptional circumstances, children under 12 years who are suspected of committing violent offences are not subject to the criminal regime for youth. This remains the responsibility of the provinces, which have considerable powers under their jurisdiction in child welfare and mental health to detain and place children in foster homes, group homes and treatment facilities. The federal government also plans further study of this issue.
Adult sentencing in the YOA also have limitations unnecessary procedures that are wasting valuable court time. The YOA does not extended adult sentences to repeat offences, where as the YCJA does extend them as well as violent offences. The YCJA also proposes to eliminate lengthy transfer hearings prior to trial, and lowering the age limit of 16 to 14 for presumptive offences to apply to adult sentencing.
The permitting of publication is also an issue that has been seen by the YCJA as an area of justification and review. The YOA has a stance on prohibiting publications, only if the young person has received a youth sentence, even if he/she has been convicted of a presumptive offence. The YCJA proposes to permit publication if An adult sentence is imposed; a youth sentence is imposed for a presumptive offence unless the judge decides publication is inappropriate; or the youth is dangerous and at large.
One of the most important issues at hand is the victim, and the treatment of the victim in the rehabilitation and sentencing of the offender as well as in the alternative methods available to the offender. The YOA takes a strict regiment to the conditions of the victim. In the principles, there is no mention of the victim, or formal recognition of the victim s role. The victim must also ask for access to the youth records. According to the YCJA, the concerns of the victims are recognised for the first time in federal legislation in the principles of Act. Also the victims have the right to the access of youth records without asking first. In the realm of rehabilitation, the formal and informal roles in the community are encouraged. McLellan is under intense pressure from Reform members and the law-enforcement community to give youth courts power to deal with 10 and 11-year-olds alleged to have caused serious injury or death, as well as authority to make public the names of some violent young offenders. This statement was taken from an article written in the Daily News in 1998, discussing youth crime in Canada and it s view of the YOA and support of the new policies being proposed to the government of Canada for change in youth crime procedures. The Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was the initiator of seeing this new Youth Justice Strategy was meeting the needs of the people.
Alternative Programs and Interest Group Involvement
The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a Youth Justice Strategy put forth as an alternative to the Young Offenders Act, and is presently in the proposal process in legislation to replace the Young Offenders Act. This section however, will discuss the alternative programs available to young offenders within the system, and within the community. Under the YOA, for a young offender to have the option for alternative means of sentencing they have to meet the requirements laid down in the YOA, under sections 4(1) which stipulates that alternative measures to judicial proceedings may be utilized if the person considering them believes the alternative measures are appropriate; the alternative measures are authorized by the Attorney General; the young person, having been advised of the right to counsel, fully and freely consents to participate in the alternative program; the young person accepts responsibility for the act or omission allegedly committed; and there is sufficient evidence to proceed to court if the alternative measures are not agreed upon.
This procedure commonly involves an interview with a youth worker (through the local probation office), who will recommend to the prosecutor that the youth perform some community work service or, perhaps, write a letter of apology to the victim. The determining factors are the seriousness of the offence, the attitude of the offender, and whether or not the youth has had any previous court history. A youth court worker may not recommend diversion if the young offender has previous, recent convictions related to offences under the CCC.
Within the proposed YCJA, the reintegration of young offenders into the community is a viable option, but only under particular conditions just as implemented under the YOA. These conditions could include measures to establish structure in the young person s life like attending school, finding employment or obeying a curfew, and measures to address particular problems like abstaining from alcohol and drugs, attending treatment programs or counselling and not associating with gang members.
When deciding who, where, and how to implement youth programs, it is important to look at the broad range of ages, socio-economic levels, education levels, races, cultural backgrounds, and family structures. While children of all economic and social backgrounds should be involved in positive youth activities, it is the most needy individuals such as teen parents (fathers and mothers), teenage children who are on welfare, and other low-income children who are committing these crimes, and there are alternative programs such as Project Turnaround located in Barrie Ontario, that deals with high risk youth. This program offers alternative programs such as substance abuse and drug abuse counselling, pregnancy prevention and abstinence programs, teen parent programs, mentoring and volunteer programs, and finally education and training programs such as apprenticeships, internship, and school-to-work, and services for runaway and homeless youth. While problem-focused support services like the programs just mentioned are needed, some general support services can work with and in conjunction with these programs such as, making teens feel safe, making them feel like they belong, giving them a sense of independence while being supervised, and providing education as well as physical activities. Most of these components work hand in hand with one another. Youth who have solid skills are more likely to develop employment competence and seek opportunities to contribute those skills to society. While many components should be universal with these programs, it is important to remember that there is a range of issues youth face that require age- and/or gender-specific programs.
Social Issues Surrounding Youth Crime Where, Who, and Why?
Today, youth crime has been becoming an entrenched fixture in the modern households of today, and it is the social fabric of the people that influence our children that are causing this phenomenon to become apart of everyday life. The question of where, why, and who will be answered in this section. The majority of the crimes being committed are in the most populated areas of Canada. The most diverse areas such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, are just a few of the major cities that have a large populations and are at a higher risk of having a youth crime problem. However, nearly a year ago in Tabor, Alberta, a young boy one week after two students went on a deadly rampage at a high school in Colorado, a similar attack struck. John Browning, a fourteen-year-old boy opened fire inside W.R. Myers High School, killing one student, and wounding another. 15 year-old student Cory Martinez of W.R. Myers High School was quoted by the CBC saying, “It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s scary to go to school, but I can’t say I feel safe anywhere right now.” People across Canada wondered how this could happen in a town like Taber. However, this wasn t the latest tragedy to occur though, on March 5, 2001, a fifteen year old boy walked into his high school in Santa Fe, California and opened fire, killing two students and wounding 13 others. This is a far cry from the situation in Tabor, but the results were the same. In addition, on March 7th, 2001, a thirteen-year old female student from Williamsport Pennsylvania in the eighth grade shot another girl in the shoulder at her catholic school. The next question to be answered is who are committing these crimes? The obvious answer would be between fourteen and seventeen. No one will be able to understand why these three particular youths took such vicious means to get attention, but in all cases, early warning signs could of triggered the awareness of a potential problem in the future with a particular individual. According to the encourage youth program in Barrie Ontario, there philosophy of prevention states, When you recognize violence warning signs in someone else, there are things you can do. Hoping that someone else will deal with the situation is the easy way out. Above all, be safe. Don’t spend time alone with people who show warning signs. If possible without putting yourself in danger, remove the person from the situation that’s setting them off. Tell someone you trust and respect about your concerns and ask for help. This could be a family member, guidance counselor, teacher, school psychologist, coach, clergy, school resource officer or friend. If you are worried about being a victim of violence, get someone in authority to protect you. Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself. The key to really preventing violent behavior is asking an experienced professional for help. The most important thing to remember is not to go it alone. The final question on this section that needs to be answered is why are youths committing these crimes? Martin O Malley of the Lethbridge Herald wrote a column on the day of the Tabor shootings suggesting that it is the bullying in schools, video games, the Internet, television shows and movies, pop music, and media coverage of tragedies like these.
There is never a simple answer to what makes someone kick, punch, stab or fire a gun at another person or even on him/herself. According to the American Psychological Association, Some people use violence to release feelings of anger or frustration. They think there are no answers to their problems and turn to violence to express there out of control emotions. Violence is used as a way of manipulation or to control others or get something they want. Violence is used to retaliate against those who have hurt them or someone they care about. Violence is a learned behavior, and like all learned behaviors, it can be changed. This isn’t easy, though. Since there is no single cause of violence, there is no one simple solution. The best you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs of violence and to get help when you see them in your friends or yourself.
Solutions for a Better Tomorrow
Solutions to youth crime must include approaches which require improving conditions where youth live, learn and grow. The Canadian government have taken steps to improving and replacing the current YOA, by proposing the YCJA to be passed through legislation. As of the last election, 2001, this bill was through its second reading and was due for it s third reading in the near future. The YCJA is an excellent means of using alternative programs, or methods to cure the problems of lengthy court proceedings. The harsher, more intense penalties for violent offenders are also a deterrent for repeat offenders, as well as for high-risk youths. Alternatives to youth court proceedings including diversion programs; family-group conferencing, circle sentencing and police warning and formal police cautioning are also very good solutions in comparison to standard incarceration. Reintegration into community services, under supervision is also a very positive alternative that the YCJA is proposing. The need for alternative means is the basis for government officials to recognise the need for alternate ways to deal with young offenders who have a higher chance of not re-offending if they are met with the right punishment for the crime, and at the same time given the opportunity to right the wrongs they have done.
In Conclusion, the answer to this key question of why are the children of tomorrow committing these crimes, and what measures are government organizations, and interest groups taking to deter young peoples and at the same time re-habilitating young offenders was developed in a well organized essay and has given ample proof for the need of alternative methods of deterrence. The proposed Youth Criminal Justice Act in the Youth Justice Strategy shows that the YOA is not meeting with standard needs of the people to provide adequate support in the form of harsher punishments for violent offenders, the awareness of potential violent offenders through publication, and the involvement of the victim and community in the court proceedings through there roles. There roles being either the victim of the crime, and being more involved in the sentencing or apprehension of an offender, or the role of the community that would offer there services to the offender in the form of rehabilitation, rather then in custody.
1. Stevenson, Kathryn. A Profile of Youth Justice in Canada. Edited by Sandra Besserer. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1998.
2. McCrossin, Scott. Juvenile justice and youth crime in Nova Scotia: a research and discussion paper. [Halifax]: Nova Scotia Youth Secretariat, 1993.
3. Hudson Joe, Joseph P. Hornick, Barbara A. Burrows, editors; with a forward by Herman Litsky. Justice and the young offender in Canada Toronto: Wall & Thompson, c1988.
4. Begin, Patricia. Youth crime, fear and responses. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Research Branch, c1994.
5. National Post; January 20, 2001 Take spotlight off Ontario boy charged with making death threats, group says Canadian Press TORONTO (CP) – Public events that feature a 16-year-old boy who is charged with four counts of uttering threats are not appropriate, says an Ontario teachers’ group
6. National Post; January 19, 2001 Saskatchewan-Girl accuses boy of assault. A 16-year-old girl clutched a teddy bear and wiped away tears as she testified against a 15-year-old boy charged with trying to lure her and two other girls into prostitution. The girl testified the boy got violent when she refused to “go for a walk and get [him] some money … He pushed me, he slapped me, he punched me,
he kicked me in the ribs and then he hit me on the legs,” she said. The boy, who cannot be named under provisions of the Young Offenders Act, faces seven charges.
7. The Daily News, March 11, 1999 Tougher young offenders laws may violate UN children s treaty. Jim Bronskill & Joan Bryden.
Government Documents: New Brunswick, and Ontario Governments
8. http://www.gov.nb.ca/fcs-sfc/younoff.html Abstract: Young Offenders in Open Custody. In accordance with an agreement with the Department of the
Solicitor General, which administers the Young Offenders Act, the Department of Health and Community Service s provides residential and case management services for youths sentenced to Open Custody.
9. http://www.gov.nb.ca/fcs-sfc/prevent.html Abstract: Prevention Program. The Prevention Program aims to promote the development of healthy social
functioning of individuals, families and groups to a level necessary to achieve and maintain independence and to adequately carry out, throughout the life cycle, the key social roles involved in the care of themselves and dependent family members.
10. http://www.gov.nb.ca/fcs-sfc/child/yoa.html Abstract: 3.1.3 Young Offenders Act The Young Offenders Act is criminal law, which applies to young persons between 12 and 18 years of age. Under this legislation, a young person can be charged with any offence prescribed by federal legislation, including the Criminal Code.
11. http://www.premier.gov.on.ca Wed, 19 Jul 2000 News: Replace Young Offenders Act With Law Based On Responsibility: Harris, March 1, 1999 — Premier Mike Harris says the Young Offenders Act should be scrapped and replaced with a new law that makes…
12. Minister of Justice Introduces New Youth Justice Laws. Department of Justice, Government of Canada, Ottawa, March 11, 1999. pages 444-458(2)
13. Young Offenders Act: (s. 2(1)) and (s. 4(1))1985