Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Harper Promises to Name Young Offenders

Before I say anything substantial here, allow me first to acknowledge a few resources that this site will be using. First and foremost, Canadian news sources ( and are going to be a major source for quotes, campaign issues, and other things that will be brought up. In many cases, I will provide links directly to stories for readers to get the news perspective on the issue being mentioned.

News Report: Conservatives Vow to Toughen Youth Justice Act

Well, this is a bit of a tricky issue. Youth crime is a serious issue throughout Canada, in small cities and large ones alike. However, it does seem to me that the Conservative method of seeking to prevent crime is one that will not work within the long run. Allow me to build my case, lest it be left up to complete interpretation as to what I mean.

The essentials of the Conservative plan, from what I can gather from news reports and policy reports from the Conservative website, are as follows:

-Increase funding to the Youth Gang Prevention Fund to $10 million a year
-'automatic, stiffer' sentences to youths over the age of 14 who are convicted of a serious crime
-Upon conviction, youths 14 and older would be named in the media for serious and violent crimes

"We are concerned about young people falling into a life of crime...We are developing and implementing prevention and rehabilitation programs to meet that challenge more effectively.”

That quote is attributed to Prime Minister Harper, and is located on the Conservative website at the following link: Balancing Rehabilitation and Responsibility.

The Youth Gang Prevention Fund I must admit is something that I have little insight on. Someone is welcome to correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, this fund has done little to decrease gang activity. In fact, in some communities gang activity seems to actually be increasing. Perhaps it is due to a crack down in larger city centres that are forcing gangs to smaller areas, or perhaps it's just a coincidence; but I know of a few communities here in Saskatchewan that have seen gang activity increased since this fund was created.

Now, since the fund is something I can't speak authoritatively on, I'm going to leave my points about it at that and move on to the rest of the Conservative plan.

There is a good reason I included Prime Minister Harper's quote in this blog, namely because I feel that their is either a sort of hypocrisy or ignorance in it. The reason I say this is because simple thoughts and opinions of the current penal system within Canada contradict this claim.

Presently, it is widely agreed that prisons and juvenile detention facilities are a breeding place for future criminals. That young people exposed to this type of atmosphere simply pick up tips from other inmates and in effect become 'better' criminals due to it. By exposing young offenders to these types of institutions at younger ages, Mr. Harper's plan is simply ensuring that young offenders will become repeat offenders.

Also, the issue of naming offenders of violent crimes contradicts Mr. Harper's quote. In many cases, people who have been labeled as criminals often find it hard to escape the social stigma attached to it. Even if they have been reformed in prison, they will always be known as 'the person who did...' By naming young offenders, youths as young as 14, Harper and his party are ensuring that these rates continue to go up.

A young offender, depending on the crime, could spend between two - four years OR more in prison and may not be released until they were a young adult (18+). As such, these people have lost years of work experience and education. (There are those who will argue that there are programs in prison that allow people access to education and work experience. I can't argue against the education, but I can suggest that the work experience is hardly the kind that builds on a skill which can be used to secure a job once the inmate is released.) Due to this loss a sense of hopelessness may become present within the offender; they may realize that they're never be able to lead a life that doesn't revolve around crime.

Add to this hopelessness the fact that they have been named in public as an offender and this entire issue spins out of control. From my understanding, businesses when given a choice between a convict and a person with a clean record, the businesses will usually pick the person with no prior convictions. This system of naming an offender and toughening the sentences for young offenders, simply won't work within the current prison framework in which they will simply become more skilled criminals and might even realize that they no long have any other path in life.

So, obviously, given these flaws that are inherent within the Conservative plan; it is safe to say that their plans do not match with Prime Minister Harper's quote.

I hear many of you asking, so Scott what is the alternative to this issue then? From my point of view, the answer rests within social answers. In most cases, social poverty drives gang membership to numbers that wouldn't exist otherwise. While not all low-income families turn out gang members, as that is a gross generalization and highly inaccurate to claim, there is a higher chance that it will occur. As such, a party needs to address ways to ensure that poverty within Canada is taken care of and that low income families have more money in their pockets to provide a basic standard of living for themselves and their children, so that the need to engage in illegal activities is removed.

Secondly, supervision is definitely an issue as far as youth gangs are concerned. In today's world where many parents have to work numerous jobs to provide their children, it is not always possible to look after them and ensure that they aren't falling in with the wrong crowd. This can be addressed by addressing poverty as well; but is better addressed by the establishment of better day care systems and after school programs that can keep children active and involved within their community and well looked after.

We can not have a society that addresses problems after the fact; which seems to be a staple in the Conservative playbook. Anyone who challenges that as an unfair statement can gladly look at Conservative plans for environmental sustainability, a plan which would try to stem the tide after it has already crashed against the shore. Punishing those who commit crimes is all well and fine, but it can not be the only recourse of a government. Rather, it must be our duty as a community, country, and government; to address the root causes of crime and remove them.

Tougher penalties are not going to deter criminals; just look back in history to see people who would commit treason despite the extreme penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered; if that sort of extreme punishment wouldn't stop someone who wanted to commit the crime, how can we expect it to be an answer that works today when our punishment is nowhere near that serious?

Rather, crime will only be deterred once social inequalities and social issues have been addressed. We can't afford to sit back and punish after the crime has happened, we need to stand up and prevent the crime from occurring in the first place.

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