Visiting Canadian jurist warns that prison should be last resort for juveniles
Once young people are in the system, the aim ought to be to “get them out while helping them”.
That was the view expressed by Justice Kobi Barnes during his address to attendees at the National Conference on Juvenile Justice today.
The three-day conference is taking place at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Barnes, who is a Provincial Court Judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, said that it might be necessary for all the players within the juvenile justice system to change their traditional way of dealing with juveniles.
Speaking to the gathering on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which operates in Canada, he said it was crucial to create a system here which sought to “balance assistance and accountability”. So that even though young people needed to be held accountable for any criminal actions, it also needed to “engage rehabilitation”.
Referring again to the Canadian model, Barnes pointed out that their aim, as far as possible, was to avoid incarcerating young persons. Imprisonment was therefore reserved for those who committed more serious and usually violent crimes.
Even after a sentence of incarceration, there was also a supervision order so that while the offender was jailed for part of the time, he/she also received intervention and supervision from relevant parties.
He reminded the audience that young people who were incarcerated returned to the society.
“The last thing you want to do is to ensure that the kid is angry and damaged,” Barnes said.
The jurist further advocated a “stand alone” system for young offenders, thereby reducing what he termed the “contamination effect”. He further suggested that young and adult offenders be separated.
The speaker also highlighted “extra-judicial measures” which could be employed to assist deviant youth, such as police giving informal warnings, sending warning letters to young offenders and their families, or utilising civilian and uniformed officers to form friendships with the youths.
“Conferencing” was another method referred to by Justice Barnes, where police, probation, judges, school principals, psychiatrists and parents worked together to come up with a solution.
Barnes also recommended that there be ongoing therapeutic interventions even after young offenders were released from jail, to ensure their smooth reintegration into society smoothly.