Government Reaction Through Policy Change

Since the government is accountable to and elected by the public, the government must respond when change is demanded. The government reaction to the public's concern about, and fear of, crime is often one of changing correctional legislation. Recent changes that have taken place to correctional policy include the youth justice strategy, changes restricting conditional release (C-36 and C-45), dangerous offender legislation (C-55), and community notification.

The youth justice strategy

The Young Offenders Act (YOA) has been amended three times since its implementation in 1984, and again the YOA is being scrutinized in 1998. When the YOA was amended in the past, aspects of it became harsher. For example, the 1986 amendments focussed on technical and procedural changes such the allowance of a judge to reveal the identity of a youth who poses a danger to the public, and the 1989 amendments dealt with court related issues including the extension of the maximum disposition to five years less a day. The youth justice strategy that is coming about in 1998 has taken a harsh view towards youth crime by allowing for the transfer of violent youths 14 and over to adult court, and allowing the names of all those transferred to adult court to be published. Calls for harsher measures against young offenders are coming from the public, the government, correctional agencies, and policing agencies.

The majority of the public gets the perception that youth crime is an immense problem from the media. The media report mostly sensational and terrible crimes. This creates fear in the public and this fear transposes itself into calls for harsher laws and penalties.

Numerous discussion groups have formed, petitions have been created, and rallies have been held, all in the name of convincing the government to toughen up the YOA (Barrett, 1994; Dolik, 1998). The government proposes changes be made largely in response to these forceful calls from the public who perceive youth crime to be on the rise (Journal News Services, 1994; Ovenden, 1998). For example, in 1994, the Tory party released recommendations which were said to "reflect the wishes of Albertans," who are calling for the "protection of society" (Gold, 1994).

These calls are not entirely justified: "the public's demand for harsher penalties in order to discourage offenders is rooted in misconceptions about what the YOA does, and what any piece of legislation is able to do" (Faulder, 1998). From 1992-1993 to 1995-1696, youth crime decreased by 6.5% (CCJS, July 1997, p. 1), and is still decreasing to date. Harsher penalties and laws are not needed. Continuing cries for harsher penalties, and sporadic changes to young offender legislation demonstrate that even though legislation is made tougher, people continue to fear youth crime.