Our Justice System: Discussed

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Please watch the following video: 

Naomi Nichols: Intersectoral Dimensions

For example, a lack of appropriate housing and supervision for youth leaving custody or detention increases the likelihood they will re-enter the community via a homeless shelter or the streets.

Additionally, all of the inter-institutional challenges associated with re-entry are connected to the gendering and racializing experiences youth have had with other institutional authorities prior to incarceration, and that they will continue to have – in one way or another – when discharged back into their communities – particularly communities that are characterized by an antagonist relationship with the police. 

These cultural and inter-personal barriers to re-entry are magnified by persistent inter-organizational and cross-sectoral gaps, which make it difficult to coordinate resources and services for youth in community. For example, youth who grow up in Toronto Community Housing and/or one of Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas see themselves and their neighbourhoods as unfairly stigmatized. Youth report particularly intense and fraught relations with the police:

“the police deal with you according to what they believe that you are. It’s the same in metro housing – in any priority neighbourhood. Its how they’ve [the police] grown up to see you. They [the police] don’t deal with you as a person … they come to us and judge us [based] on the neighbourhood’s history, not who you are.”

We asked young people in Canada’s largest youth jail how often they had interactions with the police outside, the general response was something like, “not too much – maybe a couple of times a day.”

Toronto Police Services and Toronto Community Housing have a contract that grants Agent of the Landlord status for all Toronto Community Housing properties, as well as a range of other information sharing agreements (Nichols & Braimoh, 2016). Where youth live in families that cant afford market rents and must rely on Toronto Community Housing, they are subject to more non-crime related stops than people who live in other environments. Interactions with the police do not just occur on the streets, but also in their homes.

For those families who are evicted from social housing environments or who decide to leave voluntarily, the increased financial burden of market housing can reduce their choices or freedoms in other areas – some parents pick up more shifts at work, limiting the time they are able to spend in the home; other families experience food insecurity; while others turn to the streets to generate income.

Due to elevated crime and call for service rates in some neighbourhoods, there is also extensive police activity in the neighbourhood more generally – that is, not simply on social housing properties. Police are actively present in the neighbourhood gathering intelligence and doing what they describe as “community outreach.” They are also involved in high schools as School Resource Officers and in the data gathering activities, associated with initiatives like Toronto’s Anti-violence Prevention Strategy or TAVIS.

Of the 48 young people I interview in one of Toronto’s North-West neighbourhoods, all but a couple described unwanted interactions with the police. A few of the encounters they talked about took place in school; most took place in the neighbourhood. All of the 15 youth we interviewed in a youth justice facility reported daily or weekly encounters with the police in their neighbourhoods.

Most young people’s first encounters with the police are non-crime related. When I say that a stop is “non-crime related,” I mean that the police stopped them – and often searched them – asked for ID and recorded the information into their data bases through the production of contact cards, but the young people were not actually breaking any laws at the time of the encounter. Many youths we have spoken with will go on to describe subsequent interactions that lead to involvement with the youth justice system and then later repeated “administration of justice offences” like a break of probation. Other simply describe repeated non-crime related interactions throughout their adolescents.

These encounters with the police are fraught with tension for the youth. Young men, in particular, describe being treated like “little bitches” by the police. On the other hand, these same youth, describe the police as “the boydom,” in comparison to their own groups of friends and associates, who they call “the mandom.” Young men I worked with as co-researchers talked about all the effort they out into being “fierce” and level-headed on the streets – where one must deal with the politics of the ‘hood and continuous encounters with the police.’ This work, they explain is stressful and part of the reason why they are quick to snap – on each other, on teachers, on parents, and any adult in a position of authority.


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!