During the month of April, we paid attention to Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible? By taking thirteen young people’s realities over the last thirty years, collecting and joining them to create a video mini-series. All of the statements used in each video are real accounts of how young people have experienced the Canadian Criminal Justice System. For the month of June, we are revisiting this mini-series. The Listening Project is excited to welcome a guest researcher, Naomi Nichols, McGill University. Naomi is a friend of The Listening Project who has worked closely with young people in Ontario and Quebec. Over the next several weeks, you will see Naomi’s research connected with the videos we created for the series to demonstrate the vast similarities in experience that young people are having across Canada. In doing this, we hope to unpack Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible? and answer the question: what can we do to change this reality?
To begin, we are sharing Naomi Nichols introduction and her policy background. As always, we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings:
Recently, I had the tremendous good fortune to hear a young woman, who had been in conflict with the law, struggled with addictions, and experienced homelessness during adolescence, speak about her experiences as a research assistant on a project about services for homeless youth in her city. As a consequence of listening to other young people share their experiences with the youth criminal justice and the street-involved youth serving systems – and seeing the lines of convergence across their stories – she came to the astute conclusion that there was a systemic basis to their shared experiences. It wasn’t coincidental that their paths through labyrinthine youth “care” systems took similar turns (Charlotte Smith, Coming Up Together, Ottawa Canada, Key Note Panel, 2018)
This was the same feeling I had as I engaged with The Doorway’s The Listening Project audio and text-based stories about young people’s experiences with the youth criminal justice system. It is not coincidental that young people in Alberta describe relations with the police and the youth criminal justice system that echo those described by youth in Ontario. In part, this is a function of the Youth Criminal Justice Act being Canadian legislation. But the similarities are a result of more than a shared legislative backdrop: the provision of correctional programs and services for youth is a provincial and federal responsibility. So, you’d imagine there may be striking differences in experiences across two provincial contexts.
But what stands out are the similarities - namely that despite the mandate to rehabilitate and re-integrate youth who have offended, the youth criminal justice system designs and delivers public safety interventions, which undermine young people’s safe and stable integration into housing, community, educational and labour market opportunities. The sheer number of court-dates and conditions (e.g., being unable to learn at the same institution as a co-accused) make continuous education and/or labour market participation nearly impossible. Furthermore, insufficient coordination of housing and socio-economic supports upon re-entry increases the likelihood that a young person – particularly those re-entering poverty – will re-offend.
For the last 10 years, I’ve been doing research – anchored in the experiences and insights of young people and the institutional and social contexts shaping young people’s experiences of exclusion in their neighbourhoods, in our public institutions, and community-level organizations. The research has similar objectives to The Doorway’s The Listening Project – it seeks to amplify young people’s knowledge of the systematic and structural conditions of exclusion and neglect, inclusion and opportunity, which give shape to their lives. But I also seek to add to what we understand about the precise policy and practice mechanisms that shape the outcomes young people describe.
In this blog post – in responses to the poignant stories shared by young people in The Listening Project and the young people’s I’ve interviewed over the years in Ontario and Quebec – I highlight a few (of many) points of rupture in young people’s re-entry from detention or incarceration.
The introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003 was meant to address high rates of youth incarceration by:
· Providing alternative, community-based options in lieu of incarceration,
· Limiting the use of detention, prior to sentencing (i.e., pre-trial detentions), and
· Improving re-integration and rehabilitation efforts in order to limit repeat offences.
The re-integration process is one of several reforms meant to improve public safety, while also reducing youth incarceration rates. The focus on community re-entry is presented as a developmentally appropriate and rehabilitative response to youth justice issues.
But key to our understanding of the efficacy of any of these reforms is the inter-dependence between the youth justice sector and the various other institutional settings impacting the lives of children, youth and families.
Please check back with us next week as we continue to unpack Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible?
As always, we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings!