Current youth system creating ‘little criminals’

Young offenders must be given access to education and rehabilitation programs in order to set their lives on a better path, says Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia.

“We’ve generated and created these criminals. We’re putting them in institutions, taking them away from structure, away from the love of their family and the school system, and we somehow think they should be better kids, but we’re not giving them the opportunity to be better,” says Gadhia, responding to a new report that says Roy McMurtry Youth Centre (RMYC) jail in Brampton is on the brink of a crisis.

About 100 youths were interviewed over a two-year period for the report, prepared by Ontario’s advocate for children and youth, called It depends who’s working: The Youth Reality at RMYC, the Toronto Star reports.

Almost half of those interviewed commented on the excessive use of force by staff to de-escalate violent or aggressive situations, and more than 40 per cent said they had been physically restrained, the article says.

The report also found that rehabilitation and reintegration programs — one of the big promises of the jail when it first opened — are scarce, the article continues.

“I am not surprised that this is going on in these institutions,” says Gadhia. “My clients in the ‘Roy’ ask to be transferred all the time.”

Gadhia says once an offender is sent to jail, the fact that they are children seems forgotten.

“It’s unfortunate because violence begets violence. If you teach them the only way to deal with these situations is through violence, what else do you expect them to learn?”

Education is crucial, she adds.

“If we don’t catch them at this age, they’re going to become the rounders of the future,” says Gadhia.

In recent years, youth behaviour has been overcriminalized, says Gadhia, noting playground arguments are now commonly seen as assault, for example.

“You’re getting young people put on bail, which is restrictive, and it’s difficult for a teenager to comply with these strict conditions,” she says. “They’re likely to get picked up on a breach, and it’s now turned into criminal behaviour – all stemming from the schoolyard. Now, the young person is sitting in an institution like this where he’s being bullied and shoved around by adults, who are supposed to be setting examples. He should be in school, but the programs don’t exist. Maybe he needs anger management, but it’s not available.”

The cycle continues, Gadhia says, and jails remain overcrowded.

“All it’s doing is creating little criminals,” she says. “There should be a full school in there, and one-on-one counselling. If we can get them at that age, we can prevent them from becoming adult criminals.”

A solution is possible, says Gadhia, but it will require changes to the current system. “We have to do something more from the front end to ensure kids aren’t staying in institutions like this and if they have to be in the institution, that they have a chance to get the programs they need to make sure they’re productive when they come out,” she says.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the situation, says Gadhia, is that Roy McMurtry’s named is attached to such a centre.

“He’s an incredible man; he’s a unifying force in the courts,” she says. “The fact that an entire building has been named after this man, who has made such a valuable contribution, only to see it smeared, is really sad.”

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