One mark of an advanced criminal justice system is being able to exercise judgement in sentencing criminals based on their age. Society recognizes that the youngest have little life experience, are easily persuaded by peers, and usually have little understanding of the consequences of their actions. That is why we adults are held to a higher standard than children and teens. A recent trend in Canada is the rising population of young offenders behind bars for crimes that may not necessarily deserve such a harsh sentence. This has led many to believe that the Canadian government should stop jailing young offenders.
An alarming trend
Despite crime rates falling, there are still a record number of people in jail for non-violent crimes. More than ever, people are being incarcerated because of drugs, mental issues, or lack of education, and disconnected from family and society as a whole. This not only reinforces negative behaviours, it creates obstacles for when these individuals want to return to society. This is why many alternatives to prison have been proposed, such as restorative justice, diversion programs if an offender accepts help, or house arrest.
A staggering cost
There are high costs associated with these incarceration figures. They can be mainly attributed to the human capital required. It costs roughly $100,000 a year to keep a young offender in prison, and upwards of $2 million if they become a lifelong criminal.
Readjusting to life
Young people, especially in certain environments, are prone to making bad decisions. The nature of most of the crimes committed by youth offenders is often referred to as “victimless” (such as drug-related crimes).
Due to the previous government’s tough-on-crime stance which often includes mandatory minimum sentences for these types of crimes, Canadian youths could nevertheless receive a criminal record and pass through the prison system. This will severely hamper most of their good job prospects, and act as an obstacle to getting back into society and living a healthy, productive life. Finding new ways to administer justice seems to be a priority for our new government, and time will tell how they will react to these existing policies.
It’s no question that children and teens, especially those from underprivileged areas, are some of the most vulnerable Canadians, and do not fully understand right from wrong or the consequences of their actions. That is why they are not held to the same standards as adults in general. Yet the number of youths being jailed for non-serious crimes is an issue, as is the process of rehabilitating them. Readjusting and joining society, even after having obtained a Canadian pardon isn’t easy for adults, much less for those who have been through the justice system as young offenders.