[cp] Getting tough on youth crime doesn't pay (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (wy497@victoria.tc.ca)
Sun, 4 Apr 1999 16:44:30 -0700 (PDT)


  Leslie Schentag
  Gremlin Research Consultants
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  "When Freedom Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Free"
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 4 Apr 1999 17:59:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: GranVizier@webtv.net
To: cp@telelists.com, november-l@drugsense.org, restore@crrh.org
Subject: [cp] Getting tough on youth crime doesn't pay

http://www.thestar.com/editorial/news/990404NEW02_CI-LAND4.html

April 4, 1999 
 
  
Getting tough on youth crime doesn't pay  
 KIMBERLY, 14, the young prostitute who was arrested in a North York
brothel, and is now trying to put her life back together, stands right
at the heart of a Canadian contradiction. 

We learned from the news stories that this vulnerable kid with the
street-smart veneer had been ``sexually, emotionally and physically
abused,创 was a street prostitute from the age of 11, and that she
was first dragged before the courts for the theft of a $1.50 ring. From
then on, it was a downward spiral of breached probation, group home,
running away, more court appearances.  

In other words: Kimberly, having suffered grievous abuse, was
criminalized.  An overwhelming majority of Canadians, when asked, think
that we should get really tough on youth crime. Send them to boot camp!
Throw away the key. Do the crime, serve the time. 

Mike Harris' dimwit former ``crime commissioner创 MPP Jim Brown even
wanted to try 10-year-olds in adult court.  Here's the contradiction at
the heart of our Canadian conversation on crime: an overwhelming
majority of ``youth criminals创 are the Kimberlys of this world. Who
among us, having heard Kimberly磗 story, would advocate harsh
punishments for her?  

The moment ``youth crime创 becomes an abstract subject of debate,
however, our fears are triggered. Seriously violent young criminals, and
they do exist, are a tiny minority. But because they hog the headlines,
and the thousands of lesser offenders are never even mentioned, we end
up with a lopsided and mistaken impression.  

There is no youth crime wave, as I heard again and again from weary
court officials and youth lawyers: almost all the young offenders who
come before the courts are there for incredibly petty offences. The
``zero tolerance创 policy in schools, for example, gave rise to the
instant media myth of widespread ``girl violence.创 Shoves, slaps
and noisy quarrels were suddenly counted as part of the legal record.  

Youth courts are filled with the teenage cast-offs of modern life. One
lawyer plucked a typical case from a stack of files. A child who had
been sexually abused by her father was turned over to the children's aid
by a complicit mother as ``too difficult to handle.创  Bounced from
foster family to group home, she engaged in a rowdy act of defiance with
a bunch of other girls who deliberately let a bathtub overflow. 

That's how this 12-year-old was convicted on a mischief charge. The
judge said the girl should have been ``more respectful创 of
property. Her record is a long list of broken probation orders, then
more charges of ``failure to comply,创 until finally, around the age
of 14, the charges switch to prostitution and drug use.  

With boys, the charges often start with a rougher kind of mischief -
intimidating classmates, a hallway punch-up, petty drug offences. Quite
often, the veneer crumbles in court. Far from ``laughing创 at the
supposedly feeble provisions of the Young Offenders Act, the boys are
scared and many cry. Few are accompanied by parents.  

No one says that youthful bullying, drug abuse and street prostitution
should be ignored or winked at. But getting tough - which is what we
already do - doesn't work.  Canada already has one of the world's
highest rates of youth incarceration, four times higher than for adults. 

My clipping file bulges with comments from right-wingers who think
juvenile prisons are too soft, all fun and games and TV. They should
read the report by Ontario's Child Advocate, who gathered teenage
testimony about brutal police tactics, bruising shackles and handcuffs,
humiliations and racist insults.  

Last week, Statistics Canada reported that nearly one-third of sex
assault victims are children under 12, and nearly two-thirds are under
18.  What do we think happens to those kids? Does the trauma just drift
away on the breeze?  Let's get real: many of these are the youngsters
who, if they have no family supports, rebel, run away and end up in
court - often to be ordered back to their abusive homes. They run again,
breaking the court order, and bingo: They're young offenders. Then what
do we do: Punish them more and harder?  A heap of studies prove what
should be obvious: ``strict discipline创 facilities for teens
``increase the sense of rage and injustice.创  

The high rate of recidivism has led many U.S. jurisdictions to give up
on boot camps altogether.  

We do know what works. There are exciting innovations, elsewhere, in
``restorative justice,创 where victim confronts perpetrator in a
non-legal setting. Very early educational enrichment works - although
Mike Harris once sneered that this was ``the stupidest thing创 he
ever heard of.  

Parenting centres, extra school staff for faltering kids, intensive
therapy programs, all help. Stability helps, but that takes good pay for
devoted children's aid and group home counsellors. Housing and welfare
for abused teens, community schools and job training adapted for
difficult youth - not headline material, maybe, but it all works. And
it's all been shorn away, reduced to rubble by cost-paring governments.  

So that's our Canadian contradiction: every time we're confronted with
the results of our dysfunctional ``tough on youth crime创 approach,
we call for more and tougher punishments.  Politicians are glad to
exploit and whip up our fears.  Sorry, Kimberly. You've had a tough life
so far. And when adults committed crimes against you, there were no
politicians around to ``get tough创 with them.  

Michele Landsberg's column usually appears Saturday and Sunday. Contents
copyright  1996-1999, The燭oronto燬tar.


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