On May 12, 1998, Minister of Justice Anne McLellan released the government's proposed strategy on youth. The strategy is to reduce youth crime through three complementary strategies: prevention and meaningful alternatives, meaningful consequences for youth crime, and rehabilitation and reintegration.
On the prevention and meaningful alternatives component of the strategy, the best way to deal with youth crime is to prevent it through community based crime prevention and by addressing the social conditions associated with the root causes of delinquency. Moreover, a number of alternatives to the formal justice system can be used to effectively deal with the vast majority of young offenders. Therefore, community based penalties, which are more effective than custody, will be encouraged for low-risk, non-violent offenders. The strategy also maintains that young people who commit crimes should be held responsible and accountable for their actions, and the consequences for the crimes will depend on the seriousness of the offence and on the particular circumstances of the offender. The youth justice system acknowledges that the vast majority of young offenders can overcome past criminal behaviour and develop into productive members of the community through proper guidance and support. Therefore, these proposals support the rehabilitation and successful reintegration of young offenders to the community.
The youth justice strategy is based on a number of proposals that underscore the three broader strategies of prevention, meaningful consequences, and rehabilitation:
It has been somewhat difficult to respond to this youth justice strategy in a comprehensive manner. The inclusion of prevention, alternative processes and community-based consequences is encouraging and are elements that the John Howard Society has promoted in the past. However, the proposals around all of these progressive measures are quite vague. The federal government only holds up the possibility of seed money, which would need to be replaced by provincial revenues, for those programs that relate to alternatives to custody. The theory is that having benefited from savings through reduced incarceration, the provinces would be willing and able to continue funding those programs on their own after federal funding ends. The notion that provinces would continue to fund programs after federal funding is withdrawn is naive at best and manipulative at worst. The idea that the federal government, provinces and territories could collectively agree on the implementation of programs given the substantial differences in their needs, the substantial differences in their ideologies and attitudes towards youth justice and in spite of their constant bickering over money, seems remote.
We have deep concern over some of the other proposals. For example, releasing the names of young offenders does not promote public safety or rehabilitation. Community notification creates a false sense of security, can encourage vigilante behaviour against young offenders and may even encourage youth who like the notoriety. The proposed legislation will also result in more young offenders serving "adult sentences." Because the transfer hearing will take place after a finding of guilt rather than before trial, the net impact will be that those young offenders with a presumed transfer and all those that the Crown indicates he/she will be seeking an adult sentence for, will automatically have their trials heard in adult court. Having been tried in adult court and found guilty, a hearing will then take place to determine whether the young person should be subject to "adult sentences." It seems likely, in our view, that under these circumstances many will be sentenced as adults.
The concrete measures contained in the strategy have been promoted as a substantial new direction; in fact, it is a carbon copy of all of the amendments and rhetoric that we have seen in every amendment to the Young Offenders Act. The government continues to promote the notion that "public confidence" in the justice system is tied to punitive measures for violent offenders. In so doing, they continue to reinforce the notion that punishment achieves public protection, that punishment promotes positive change in young people and that public safety is simply a matter of determining the perfect punishment.
References available upon request.
Alberta will be holding a Summit on Justice in early 1999. The mission of the summit is "To build consensus on actions for improving public confidence and community participation in the justice system." Leading up to the summit are a series of consultations involving both the public and the various sectors of the justice system. The public consultations will be headed by an all-party MLA committee and will be held in May, June and September, 1998. These consultations will give everyone the opportunity to tell the government of Alberta how well the justice system is performing and what needs to be done to make it even better than it is today. Each of the various sectors in the justice system are participating in planning the summit. Christine Leonard, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Alberta, is the representative for the non-government organization sector on the Working Committee. As such, John Howard Societies will play a key role in ensuring that other NGOs are invited to be active participants in the summit consultations.
Anyone wishing to participate in the consultations are invited to respond to any of the following questions:
People can get involved in the summit in a number of different ways :
Criminal Justice Education
The Medicine Hat John Howard Society offers Criminal Justice Education (CJE) programs to junior high school students and contributes to the legal education and knowledge of the people in the community. The CJE program uses video material and mock trials to facilitate discussion on the Young Offenders Act and other issues relating to the criminal justice system. The program concentrates on issues such as crime and its consequences, community crime rate comparisons and the Young Offenders Act.
The Medicine Hat John Howard Society has entered into a partnership with Medicine Hat College to use student teachers as volunteers to present Criminal Justice Education programs. Student teachers gain valuable classroom time and the CJE program is further promoted when these students enter the teaching profession. Through this program, college and university students have devoted approximately 250 volunteer hours to deliver criminal justice education to the community.
The Medicine Hat John Howard Society has also partnered with Community Corrections to offer a 5 part program entitled Junior High Justice. This program provides another method of delivering the CJE program within the education system and in the community. It provides junior high school teachers with the information and tools necessary to instruct students on criminal justice issues.
As a result of the tremendous amount of community support for the CJE programs, the Medicine Hat John Howard Society continues to receive requests and maintains the programs in schools and youth orientated agencies.
For more information, contact:
The John Howard Society of Alberta "Reporter" is distributed free of charge to a wide audience of citizens, educators, agencies and justice system staff. Our goal is to provide information and commentary on timely criminal justice issues. We welcome and encourage your feedback on the "Reporter."
The John Howard Society of Alberta is an agency composed of citizens in Alberta who are interested in criminal justice reform and preventing crime in our communities. We recognize that crime and its control is as much the responsibility of the community as it is of government.
We gratefully accept donations to help offset the costs of our efforts in criminal justice reform and crime prevention. Donations are income tax deductible. To provide feedback, obtain information or make a donation, please contact us at: