More kids doing more serious crime
Intelligencer.ca – news/local
October 5, 2012. By Jason Miller
An increasing number of local youthful offenders are committing more serious crimes, despite a decline in the number of teens appearing before the courts, an area probation officer says.
The youth case load, handled by Neil Burrell, a Belleville probation officer with 20 years of experience, has been slashed in half in recent years. But egregious offences such as rape and robbery continue to surge among youth.
“I use to have kids on probation for stealing bicycles,” he said. “Now, we see children on probation for committing violent sexual assaults and robberies.”
The troubling trend is baffling to law enforcement officials who struggle to address the myriad of actors behind youth criminal activity.
“We are experiencing a decrease in the number of children before the courts,” Burrell said. “At the same time, we’re seeing a significant increase in the complexity of those cases.”
Burrell was reluctant to link the worrying statistics to any one contributing scenario, but he said substance abuse is prevalent among young offenders.
“I’m not sure if they’re becoming more violent, but they’re certainly more serious crimes,” he said. “Most of the kids that we deal with are kids who are really challenged.”
Contrary to public perception, Burrell said, the majority of young offenders here aren’t coming from impoverished or neglectful backgrounds, traditional environments where criminal activity is fostered and even condoned.
“Many of them are normal kids in the community who go and do something bone-headed,” he said.
The aforementioned segment of offenders is also more likely to make a seamless transition back into the community, he said.
That said, there is a growing percentage of teens who come from unstable and abusive family settings where substance abuse is a part of daily life. Poverty also fuels an already sordid existence, Burrell says.
“I’m fairly confident that substance abuse is a factor,” he said. “Substance abuse, to a large degree, is a coping mechanism to deal with their own trauma.”
He attributes mischievous tendencies among local teens to a yearning for belonging, amplified in some cases by abandonment by parents.
“The kids who don’t have that steady family and support in the community, struggle,” he said. “If they have to commit crimes to be part of that group, it’s something they will do because they crave belonging.”
Efforts to divert first-time offenders away from the courts is also proving successful.
He attributed diversion methods, such as conflict resolution meetings, to the noticeable decrease in his case load, which has dropped to less than 25 cases each day, down from about 50.
“Kids who get onto our case load have usually had a couple kicks at the can before they get here,” he said. “There has been somewhere in the neighbourhood of a 50 per cent drop in the number of youth who see us.”
Closeto about 98 per cent of the youth who move through the system on a yearly basis, “never have any more involvement with the justice system.”
“I use to have 12 and 13-year-olds on my case load and I no longer do because those kids are being diverted out of the system,” he said.
Burrell is an advocate of providing mentoring to youth who make a childhood mistake and require positive influences to get back on track. His objective as a probation officer is steering teens away from reoffending.
“My job is not to punish kids,” he said. “My role is to help keep kids out of custody.”
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