NUMBER 628• 5 NOVEMBER • 'GET TOUGH' RESPONSES
According to Mallea (1999), Canada is outstanding in its harsh treatment of young offenders, incarcerating young offenders "at twice the rate of most American states" (Mallea, 1999, p. 3). Mallea emphasizes that it should shock people to know that 81% of the youth we send to jail are there for nonviolent offenses, and that a two-year sentence for a young offender is "more or less equivalent to a six-year sentence for an adult" (p. 4). These sentences for youth are generally much ‘tougher’ than would be given to adults tried for the same offenses in adult court (Mallea, 1999).
Reasons offered for using a more punitive approach to youth crime do not stand up under close scrutiny. One popular belief is that young offenders care only about themselves and that they commit crime because they know that the consequences for offending behavior will be minor. Researchers have explored the accuracy of such a claim and have shown that young offenders are not self-satisfied (Sprott & Doob, 2001)’ nor are they more "savvy" about the system (PetersonBadali & Koegl 2001). In reality, aggressive children are often rejected by others, feel sad and view themselves as bad kids (Sprott &Doob, 2001). Additionally, young offenders see the youth justice system as more punitive than do other adolescents, and although they have an increased awareness of the certainty and severity of sanctions applied to youthful offending, this awareness does not act as a deterrent (PetersonBadali & Koegl, 2001). Deterrence strategies tend to work best early on in a young person’s life and have little impact when youth’s lives are miserable (Baron & Kennedy, 2001). Clearly, factors other than self-satisfaction, a desire to beat the system and fear of reprisal need to be given serious consideration in any discussion of how to prevent youth crime. We know that incarceration acts as an effective deterrent to repeat offending in only approximately 20% of the cases (Greenwood, et al, 1998). While Quebec and New Brunswick have recently announced policies of de-carceration (Mallea, 1999) other Canadian provinces would do well to follow suit.
DIANA NICHOLSON, A. A., SIBYLLE ARTZ, Ph. D.
Nicholson, D., Artz, S. Preventing Youthful Offending: Where Do We Go From Here? Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, Vol. 16 Issue 4 Winter 2003.
Mallea, P. (1999). Getting tough on kids: Young offenders and the “Law and Order Agenda”. Report prepared for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba.
Sprott, J. & Doob, A. (2001). Bad, sad and rejected: The Lives of aggressive children. In T. Fleming, P. O'Reilly and B. Clark (Eds). Youth Injustice: Canadian Perspectives (2nd Ed.), pp. 251-21. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars' Press.
Peterson-Bdadali, M. & Koegl, C. (2001). Young people's knowledge of the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system, In T. Fleming, P. O'Reilly and B. Clark (Eds). Youth Injustice: Canadian Perspectives (2nd Ed.), (pp. 395-421). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars' Press.
Baron, S. & Kennedy, L. (2001). Deterrence and homeless male street youths. In T. Fleming, P. O' Reilly and B. Clark (Eds). Youth injustice: Canadian Perspectives (2nd Ed.), pp 151-184. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars' Press.
Greenwood, P., Model, K., Rydell, C. & Chiesa, J. (1998). Diverting children from a life of crime: Measuring costs and benefits. Oakland, CA: RAND Criminal Justice.