Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Youth Justice - Revisited

The Canadianl government is seeking public consultation on the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The folks in the policy research branch would like to get input from Canadians on how to address the needs of youth, in an effort to divert the small minority of them away from the criminal justice system. As I have noted below, doing a little preventive work might go a long way.

The Canadian Psychological Association has taken the opportunity to reply to the request for input and have sent a letter of recommendations for the policy folks. The main recommendations are for the continuance of programs to divert young people away from the criminal justice system and to conduct research into crime prevention and rehabilitation programs for more serious offenders.

And just how big is this problem in reality?

Well, there has been no increase in youth crime rates. In fact, since the last government enacted the YCJA in 2003 there has been a 15% decrease in youth arrested. Why? Because the system realized some kids make mistakes that land them in trouble. The vast majority of these kids when allowed to atone for their mistakes never get in trouble again. The diversion programs within the YCJA provided for community discretion when dealing with what amounts to petty drug charges and acts of minor vandalism.

There has been a 3.7% increase in violent crime. But rather than the YCJA, itself, being the problem, the CPA hints that maybe the increase may have something to do with the mental health status of those committing these crimes. Having worked in the field for nearly 30 years, I would suggest that child abuse, poverty, criminal neighbourhoods, involvement with drugs and school dropout might be some of the factors that have been on the increase in recent years, along with the cuts in dollars to community programs that deal with these more troubling issues. I wonder whether anyone has done a study yet on the increase in violent crime among youth in relationship to the decrease in community mental health programs, rates of retention in secondary education and rates of youth employment?

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