8 July 2015
MONCTON (GNB) – Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bossé today released a report entitled More Care Less Court: Keeping Youth out of the Criminal Justice System.
Bossé is calling on policy developers, police, corrections workers, lawyers, prosecutors, school officials, social workers and health professionals to work collaboratively with communities to fulfill New Brunswick’s obligations under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The report contains 10 formal recommendations meant to address problems including the lack of: early intervention; specialization in the unique needs and developmental circumstances of youth; comprehensive training for all stakeholders; consistency of practice across the province; full legal representation; and emulation of best practices in youth criminal justice.
Bossé saw many problems in the system and felt compelled to release this report. It is offered as part of his mandate to provide advice to government to ensure that the rights of children and youth are protected and respected.
“Youth crime rates are at historic lows and yet too many youths continue to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated in our province for minor crimes,” said Bossé. “We see far too often that the most vulnerable youths get caught in the criminal justice system.”
Bossé noted that youths caught in this system are disadvantaged in various ways: mental health disorders; addictions issues; intellectual disabilities; backgrounds as victims of abuse and neglect; homelessness; or coming from marginalized or minority identity groups. He also said that New Brunswick’s pre-trial detention rates and secure custody rates for youth remain too high compared to other provinces.
“New Brunswick has been using court as a surrogate measure to address its failings in providing supports to youth in need,” said Bossé. “The vast majority of youth crime involves non-violent offences. Inexplicably, we find that New Brunswick continues to incarcerate youth for minor crimes. And yet we know that detention and incarceration are the least effective measures in the majority of cases, and the most costly. There remains a deficiency of resources in our province for community-based responses to these issues.”
The report warns that mixing low-risk, often first-time offenders in the same facility with youth who have committed serious offences increases the likelihood of low-risk youth becoming high-risk and falling into a pattern of repeat crime. Youths as young as 12 years old are held in New Brunswick’s secure custody facility for pre-trial detention. It is a fearful situation for these youth. They also face stigma and develop a poor self-image. Family connections are broken, education is interrupted, and community supports are severed.
Bossé said there are more youth-centred and effective approaches elsewhere in the country and stressed that a greater focus on community-based solutions is needed.
He noted that in the last few years, New Brunswick has begun to make real progress in effectively addressing youth criminal justice issues. Very recently it has created youth justice committees that can provide community focus to issues of youth at risk. However, much work is still to be done to keep youth from crime.