CC200Youth Justice The Rise and Fall of Delinquency Chapter One
The Public Issue • Over the last twenty years, youth crime has been the focus of public concern and discourse. • Canada-wide, newspaper headlines warned their readers of a serious crime problem if immediate steps were not taken. • Beyond the headlines, newspapers have consistently carried horrific accounts of violent criminal deeds carried out by young Canadians.
By the close of the 1990s, media headlines were fuelling public fear and concern regarding violent crimes committed by girls. • School violence was also added to the growing list of horrific youth behaviors. • News coverage of violent crimes is not surprising – think of the old saying in media “if it bleeds, it leads”.
What may be surprising is the amount of coverage that youth crime generates in the media, when those who study crime in society are well aware that adult crime far surpasses youth crime, both in quality and severity. • It is also surprising when one looks at the proportion of youth crime that is violent to that which is not.
Questions to consider • According to recent police statistics (2005), the rate of violent youth crime has remained relatively stable since 1992 and actually decreased by 2 percent in 2004. • Why, then does the public believe that violent youth crime is on the rise? • What potential impact has this belief had on legislation regarding youth crime?
Media coverage along with personal experiences, in some cases, prompted many Canadians to express their concerns about ‘out-of-control’ youth and criminal behaviors. • The general public consensus regarding the Young Offenders Act (YOA) was that it was ineffective in curbing youth crime, that it was too lenient, and that it needed to be over-hauled.
Youth crime became a focal point for politicians during the 1993 federal election. • As a result, the YOA was revised three times before being replaced in April of 2003 by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. • Even with the implementation of the new Act, the flow of media on violent youth and youth crime did not slow down, nor did the rhetoric of politicians – youth crime was still a major issue in the federal election of 2006.
The same old ‘new’ issue is the ability of the new legislation to offer more than a ‘slap on the wrist’ for youth engaged in criminal and violent behaviors. • If we are to believe media accounts and coverage of the new Act, we could conclude that the Act has failed, that nothing is new, and that youth justice is still a ‘slap on the wrist’.
Two Sides to the Same Old Debate1995-2005 • Part of the Liberal federal government’s 1995 YOA reforms involved a Strategy for Reform of the complete youth justice system. • An important part of this process was the implementation of public forums across Canada to discuss the issue of youth crime, to propose potential solutions, and to make recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
The core of the debate centered around the question of whether the YOA effectively controlled youth crime. • The public was clearly divided into two camps – youth advocates and the law-and-order advocates.
Youth Advocate Position • This camp included social workers, lawyers, and other front-line youth workers and viewed children and youth as victims in need of protection. • They believed that neither the YOA nor children were the problem. • For this group, the important issues were those related to the difficulties that youth encounter in an increasingly complex society.
This perspective focuses on the current economic, social, and political realities that can be a tremendous hardship for some young people and their families. • Economic and/or social problems may exacerbate other problems with families and some young people are forced to leave home as a matter of survival.
Youth advocates were fundamentally concerned with the problems experienced by young people rather than youth crime. • It was their opinion that youth crime had been exaggerated and misrepresented in most public accounts, particularly by the media.
The Law-and-Order Argument • The other perspective was the one most often seen in media presentations. • This law-and-order group viewed children and youth accused of crime as an enemy from whom law-abiding citizens (adults) needed protection. • This group included police officers, store security personnel, small-business owners, and home-owners associations.
They viewed youth as ‘out-of-control’ and argued that both youth and the YOA were problems. • They argued for a ‘get tough on crime’ policy and called tougher legislation to deal with the perceived problem.
Youth were a problem because: • They were said to lack respect. • They lacked a sense of responsibility. • They were increasingly involved in violent criminal behavior.
The YOA was problematic because: • Youth could not be identified. • Youth were not punished for their crimes. • Youth had more rights than their victims. • Youth were too protected by the YOA.
Ten years later, people are again gathering to discuss the youth justice system, only this time it is the Youth Criminal Justice Act that is under scrutiny. • It is interesting that even though the participants in the forum have changed the focus is the same – the youth justice system. • The same arguments are still being put forward by youth advocates and law-and-order advocates. • So, why does appear that the more things change the more they remain the same?
“The Good Old Days” • Perhaps the most basic assumption influencing public views regarding youth crime is the notion that today’s youth are more engaged in violent and criminal behaviors. • Yet crime statistics do not support this idea. • Canadian crime statistics dating back to 1885 indicate that youth have always been involved in criminal activity, including violent crime.
It is hard to find historical data on youth crime and public responses prior to 1885 because youth crime statistics were not always kept in the same manner that they are today. • There are no consistent prison records, for example, until 1885 when Kingston Penitentiary – the first Canadian prison – opened.
Most Canadian criminologist studying in this area have relied more on the work of historians than criminologist to develop an understanding of youth crime and justice in the early years. • So, what have we discovered?
Lawless and Disobedient Youth: 17th and 18th Centuries. • Information on youth involvement in crime in Canada during this time period is sketchy. • What information we can uncover indicates that concerns were expressed about youth as a problem in North American colonies as early as the late 17th century.
Throughout recorded history, children in European societies have had a different legal status than adults. • In essence, what this means is simply that they had no legal rights. • Infanticide, child labor, and child slavery were common. • The idea that children had legal rights or that they had legal rights to protection from adults did not emerge until the 19th century.
Colonial administrators brought traditions and legal codes to the New World. • The first European settler executed in the territories of Canada was a 16 year old female who was convicted of theft in 1640. • However, in some cases, young persons were treated with more leniency. For example…
In 1672 a 13 year old girl who had helped her parents murder her husband escaped execution because of her age. • Instead, she was required to watch the execution of her parents.
Colonial Public Issue • The issue for colonial administration in the territories of Canada was the freedom and independence that young people had relative to their counterparts in the Old World. • In Europe, children were subservient to adults and dependent on parents. • This was not always the case in the New World.
In the largely rural nature of the population in New France, parents were dependent on the children’s labor for economic survival and success. • Therefore, rural and working-class children in the New World had considerable independence from their parents. • In the view of the colonial administrators, parental authority was significantly undermined by this arrangement and this lack of authority was evidenced in young people’s behaviors.
Causes and solutions: An Era of Control and Punishment • Another identified issue concerned the fur trade – an extremely lucrative business at this time. • The system of inheritance in place at the time, dictated that only the eldest son could inherit family farms. • Other children had to look elsewhere for a livelihood.
The fur trade provided this opportunity for many young men as well as promising freedom, adventure and a lucrative career. • According to Carrigan (1991), the fur trade was “rife with fraud, immorality, theft, assault, and murder” and teenagers “probably contributed their fair share to the lawlessness” (pg.204).
Another very real source of problems came from the active promotion of immigration to the New World. • Impoverished Europeans had been lured to the New World with promises of a better, more prosperous life. • However, once they arrived, many found unemployment, sickness, destitution, or death.
Untold quantities of children found themselves in desperate circumstances because of the hardships faced by their parents in the New World. • Some parents died while others simply abandoned their children.
In the 18th century, a variety of measured were proposed as solutions to youth crime. • More schools, more priests, and confinement to settled parts of the colony were as informal solutions uniquely suited to the political, social, and economic structures of this time, other proposals such as fines and punishments for parents and offenders, military justice, and an increase of garrison troops has a familiar modern ring to them.
A Question of Immorality: the 19th Century • Urban problems associated with immigration and poverty continued and worsened throughout the 19th century. • The Irish famine exacerbated the orphan problem in Canada by increasing the number of people emigrating to the New World. • By the mid-1800s, British and Canadian authorities had implemented policies to send Britain’s orphaned, poor, and destitute children to Canada as indentured servants.
Definition • Indentured servant – a bonded laborer - a laborer under contract to work for an employer for a specific amount of time, about 7-8 years, to pay off a passage to a new country or home. • Typically the employer provided little if any monetary pay, but was responsible for accommodation, food, other essentials, and training. • Upon completion of the term of the contract the laborer sometimes received a lump sum payment such as a parcel of land and was free to farm or take up trade of his own.
Between 1883 and 1903, more than 95,000 children came to Canada under the sponsorship of child immigration agencies. • Many of these children found only a life of misery and harsh working conditions in Canada. • Some children abandoned their contracts (a punishable offence) which left them dependent on their own resources for survival.
Life was also very challenging for the poor in Victorian Canada. • Many did not have work, and those who were ‘fortunate’ enough to secure employment were often at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. • What factor might have contributed to being at the mercy of employers?
Girls were especially vulnerable. • Those working as domestics and servants for shopkeepers were often forced to ‘service’ male customers in order to keep their jobs. • They were not free to leave the job because they would forfeit a letter of reference without which they would not be able to secure another job.
The Victorian Public Issue • By the mid-1800s, the urban middle-class in North America began to voice concerns about the morality of the poor and destitute. • Various urban relief agencies were created in cities across the continent to address issues such as illiteracy, prostitution, alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency, and ‘family squalor’.
The discourse surrounding those agencies and their activities served to define problems, their ‘causes’, and seemingly appropriate solutions. • During the second half of the 19th century, the issue of youth crime seemed to focus on the issue of morality.
High levels of poverty and the accompanying destitution brought on by a lack of employment opportunities and severe working conditions meant that high numbers of children and young people were spending a significant portion of their days on the streets where they engaged in begging, stealing, and selling whatever they could to make a living.
The public issue however was not poverty. • It was the morality of the impoverished working class. • The parents of these children were considered to be immoral and unable and/or unwilling to control their children. • Much of the morality discourse about youth problems centered around discussions about ‘children on the streets’ and what could be done about them.
Young women on the streets were also the focus of grave concern. • However, their safety was not the issue or concern. • Instead the focus was on the perceived danger to their morality.
Causes and Solutions: An Era of Social Reform • A reform movement swept across North America in the later half of the 19th century. • The fundamental elements of this movement were a focus on the individual, a wide-spread belief in the goodness of humanitarian sentiments, and a belief in the ability of the state and professionals to reform individuals.
This, in essence, marked the emergence of the rehabilitative philosophy. • Reformers argued that it made no sense to fight evil with evil by imprisoning and punishing criminal offenders. • Instead it would much more effective in the long-run to fight evil with good by attempting to rehabilitate individuals who had committed crimes.
This reform policy applied most readily to children and young people. • ‘Child savers’ found it easy to believe that if young enough, a child could be ‘saved’ from a life of crime through interventions designed to correct the factors believed to influence children in the development of criminal ways.
Along with this belief came the conclusion that placing children in prison with adult criminals was not the way to combat the problem of youth crime. • Prisons were viewed by many as ‘schools of crime’ where children would associate with, and pick up the habits of, ‘hardened’ adult criminals.
One hundred years earlier, it had been argued that improper parenting was the cause of youth problems. • By the end of the 19th century improper parenting was again emerging in public discourse as the primary ‘cause’ of youth crime. • However, this time, the claims took on another dimension.
Youth problems were no longer attributed to a lack of parental discipline of loss of authority. • Instead, neglectful and/or immoral parents were blamed for youth problems and criminal behaviors. • Poor, working-class parents were viewed as inadequate or as bad role models for their children. • Sound familiar?
By the end of the 19th century, the juvenile delinquent had been born. • Growing up on the street became the subject of public condemnation and regulation and a life-style – a street culture – had become the most common definition of juvenile delinquency (Houston, 1982, p.131).
The Era of the Juvenile Delinquent : The 20th Century • The turn of the century saw continued increases in population and in the rapid growth of cities. • This was accompanied by a variety of social issues, including increases in youth crime. • Simply put, as cities grew and commercial activities expanded so did the opportunities for criminal activities and different types of crime.