Cuts to youth justice programs cannibalistic

By Pat Watson Wednesday July 11 2012 in Opinion
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In its attempt to appease big business and to reduce spending and debt, the federal government is making all kinds of cuts, but significantly along ideological lines.

 

Take the recent announcement by federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson that the Youth Justice Services Funding Program would be cut by 20 per cent or $35.6 million starting next spring.

 

We could get distracted by the language of the announcement with its spin – Nicholson touting the government’s ‘continued support’, while not explicitly stating that it was cutting funding – but the real bottom line is there is less money to help at-risk youth. What the spin points out again is the lack of respect the Harper government has for the public’s intelligence. They must be some kind of stupid to think the rest of us are so dumb.

 

This spending cut falls under the heading of ‘penny wise, pound foolish.’

 

Do the math. First, notwithstanding the rash of gang activity here in Toronto over the past few weeks, the overall crime rate, including among youth, has been falling, down by seven per cent nationally in 2011 compared to 2010. That is the result of the work that goes into successfully reaching at-risk youth.

 

Second, the cuts will conversely mean increased spending for incarcerated youth who might have had a better chance of being refocused away from crime if the resources were there to facilitate intervention.

 

How much? Social service professionals put the cost of per youth intervention at $10,000. Compare that to the $150,000 per person cost for incarceration.

 

The youth justice fund supports drug treatment as well as supporting deterrence of gangs, guns, drug use and drug trade. It goes to intervene with young violent offenders when there is still time to get them into rehabilitation and to learn healthy social integration. The program is also involved in reducing court backlogs by handling less serious offences without having to go through the formal court process.

 

“Tough on crime” has to be envisioned anew. Tough on crime should not mean ‘let’s give up on a certain segment of society and when they break the rules of law, let’s lock them up and throw away the key.’

 

If this government can welcome ex-convict Conrad Black back into this country then it can make an effort to look at early intervention and rehabilitation for those who live here who can be re-socialized.

 

When will we stop thinking of people who commit crimes in caricatures? Stereotypes always fail to tell the truth.

 

There are people who commit heinous crimes and there is no other recourse for the sake of society, and for their sake as well, but to separate them from the rest of the world. There are people who make poor choices because they do not have the perspective to see that there are other choices in life. There are still others who years after they have left a life of bad choices can see how their narrow world had left then with little in the way of healthy direction.

 

Are they all bad people, or people in need of intervention?

 

When a government focuses more on locking people up than on providing the means to allow them better life choices, it is not only cynical social engineering, it is a form of social suicide.

 

Part of what is needed is a program to communicate to the broader public what a lawbreaker looks like on average. Most lawbreakers are not narcissistic cannibals, or sexual deviants.

 

Moreover, there is a range of contributing social deficits that contribute to influencing their drift into criminality; low literacy that goes uncorrected, poverty, lack of adult guidance and supervision, environments that offer few alternatives, low expectations from the mainstream of society, unwarranted harassment from police, to name a few.

 

So when the government says let’s just lock these people up, what we need to understand is that the government is making a poor choice to abandon a segment of society as human sacrifices to its ideology. Some people might call that cannibalistic.

 

A note on the wheels of justice in Florida…

 

So, George Zimmerman, the man who admitted killing unarmed, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin is back on the streets after being released on a million-dollar bail bond. Earlier, having been found to make false statements about his finances regarding access to bail, Zimmerman was remanded by the courts. Let’s see how it goes this time.

 

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