More kids doing more serious crime

Posted on October 14, 2012 in Child & Family Debates

Source: — Authors: – 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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One Response to “More kids doing more serious crime”

  1. Jade Leduc says:

    Substance abuse is a rising issue within our communities, as well as an ever growing epidemic nationally. While abusing drugs and alcohol has been around for decades, it isn’t until recently that community officials have taken note to just how enormous this problem has become. Unfortunately, even with the knowledge that substance abuse; particularly the use of prescription drugs, is manifesting itself as a national epidemic, government officials have yet to take serious preventative measures to ensure that our youth, Canada’s future are receiving the aid necessary to make changes.
    With rates of minor offences such as shoplifting a pair of earrings you’ve always wanted decreasing significantly while criminal offenses such as robbery with a weapon to local pharmacies are increasing at almost double the rate, community members should be questioning exactly why there hasn’t been more involvement for preventative measures.
    The issue at hand is much less complex than government has made it out to be. The Conservative government knows exactly what is needed to make these changes and to encourage our youth to make healthier lifestyle choices. Placing these children in correctional facilities, where they are given the opportunity to reside with other criminals, who have much more experience, is nothing more than handing them a booklet on how to master the art of crime.
    Like the article read, many of these adolescents are considered at risk due to issues such as absent parents, parents who also abuse and poverty. These children who have been lacking affiliation with any group, most often turn to the streets; the only place they can call home. It is no secret that with so many families and children living under the poverty line, issues such as these will arise. Could increasing preventative social programs; a place for these children to go to when they have nowhere else to turn help decrease the rates of these crimes by decreasing the initial issue?
    Could tax breaks for corporations who are evading taxes in other off shore countries be part of the issue? I would certainly say this statement is worth at least an overlook. With a Country in deficit, and billions of dollars of lost revenue annually, the federal government could put more emphasis on penalizing the “sociopaths” who have been robbing this country of their social programs rather than washing their hands of it. The government has demonstrated to Canadians that their target and priorities are much more focused on eating up the budget by incarcerating those who have been victims of the effects of those who have robbed them of their opportunities to make a difference in their lives and the lives of our future generations.
    I strongly feel that our federal government has let us down with their lack of enthusiasm in regards to taking the issue of child poverty seriously. We have watched on the sidelines for far too long while the government again and again slashes funding for programs that help reduce the risks of exactly what is being demonstrated today. The gap between the rich and the poor is continuously increasing, with issues such as these mentioned becoming more and more apparent. It is time as Canadians, to look at our children and fight for their future. We can no longer sit back and watch as the government sweeps their futures under the rug and turns a blind eye to the culprits of this era. Today is our day to stand together and demonstrate what it means to be Canadian because if we do not, our youth will be participating in a game, far too complex for their own understanding.


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