My name is Zachary, and I am a second year student at Mount
Royal University, in the Child Youth Care Counsellor program. Today I
come to you in regards to the effectiveness of youth incarceration.
Residing – and working – in Calgary, youth incarceration would refer
primarily to Calgary Young Offender Centre; however, any correctional
centre elsewhere which is aimed towards rehabilitating youth would apply
From my experience thus far I have seen both sides of the coin: I have seen clients return from their time in CYOC with a mindset for change, and I have also seen clients return with more resources, and 'friends' to encourage their negative behaviours. As such, I would like to hear the opinion of the community on this topic. I understand that the world of CYC is hardly ever black and white, and that there will be equally agreeable arguments on each 'side'.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and possibly ponder my query.
That is a really important question. I guess it will also depend greatly on what is meant with “incarceration”. I am aware that there are many different kinds of incarceration in different parts of the world, and I can only speak from a South Africa perspective. In South Africa, young offenders that received a custodial sentence would serve that time in prison. Youth under the age of 18 are not allowed to have contact with adult prisoners, so they are kept apart. Apart from that, there is no special “programme” for youth offenders in SA as far as custody or prison in concerned. There are some organisations that may render programmes occasionally, but no formal substantial programme to speak of. I worked as a probation officer for a number of years, working mainly with youth offenders. Generally speaking, prison sentences are not “effective” in any way. Nobody gains when a youth is sent to prison. The extremely limited contact that prisoners have with their family is directly opposed to any form of rehabilitative care. It is only “effective” in removing the person from society, and I understand that in certain exceptional circumstances it may be necessary. We certainly need much more restorative justice programmes.
Just my opinion.
Thank you for your response Werner,
I did not know this to be the case. I suppose I should be thankful that, even though I question it's efficiency, we even have therepeutic interventions available to Canada's young offenders. However, I do agree with you: there are certainly some circumstances that require simply removing the young offender from society for the safety of others as well as themselves at times.
Thank you again for your response.
I’ve worked in secure custody with youth for over 20 years and thankfully I can say that Werner’s experience in South Africa is very different than what secure custody looks like in Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador at least, we focus more on rehabilitation than the incarceration aspect. We encourage family contact and do what we can around supporting a youth to reintegrate back to his community. We’re in the process of revising our policies to ensure they reflect a trauma informed perspective and have embraced Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for all residents. But somehow in this field we are still seen as correctional officers when in fact we are Youth Care Counsellors; most have a very inaccurate vision of the work we do. I’m still in touch with youth I’ve worked with over the years, so many have expressed thanks for helping them make positive changes in their lives.
Best of luck in your continuing studies, maybe consider CYOC for a work term?
From my perspective, the topic under discussion has always been
controversial. For instance, if the interests of the offender carries
more weight than the victims’ then it is regarded as not “fair”. If the
communities interests weigh more than that of the offenders’ then it is
also regarded as “unfair”. Similarly will be the case when only the type
of offence is considered as a “means test” to determine what should
happen when a youth is linked and/or found guilty of a particular
In the South African Criminal Justice System, the courts tend to take the following three factors into consideration when determining if incarceration of the youth, should be considered. In the majority of circumstances this is the case even before a youth has been found guilty of a particular offence, that is at a pre-sentence stage.
1) The interests of the community;
2) The personal circumstances of the offender; and
3) The offence (the seriousness thereof) the youth is linked to.
Although each and every case should be regarded as unique and evaluated on its own merits, the general rule is that if a youth is linked or found guilty of a very serious offence, then that youth will be detained at a Secure Care Facility or Correctional Facility until the case is finalised and or the youth receives a custodial sentence.
From a Social Worker’s perspective it is “better” if a child is detained at a Secure Care Facility. At these facilities the youth will at least receive a developmental/strengths based services, perhaps even linked to restorative justice but at the Correctional Facility there is not this luxury.
Thank you for enriching my knowledge of Canada's youth rehabilitation system. It is good to know that your work with incarcerated youth has been in a mileu which encourages the building of such relationships.
You are correct; a term at CYOC would definitely be beneficial as far broadening my horizons and perspective goes. Thank you for your input.
Thank you as well, I find these glimpses into the justice system of South Africa very intriguing. In fact, I intend to research more on the topic as it has come up a number of times when I have posted to the CYC-net. Evidently South Africa has an equally passionate number of people who work with children as we do in Canada. It is too easy to experience the "fishbowl effect", and forget that troubled youth exist outside one's own borders. Thank you for your input.
If we start off by looking at incarcerated youth
apart from providing rehabilitation opportunities, youth in South Africa
go home to the same environment that got them into prison or secure
care. Very often the skills transferred do not take into account the
ecology of the child. This means the skills taught are not transferable.
I am aware of organisations that do include family
in their services to youth but again it is how families are made part of
Lastly it is also in many cases the attitude of
staff working in these facilities that contribute towards the success of