Fighting youth crime, before it grows up

Youth crime continues to decrease in Canada ever since the introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect on April 1, 2003.

Despite this decrease, adolescents aged 12 to 17 are still twice as likely to commit a crime as adults 25 years of age or older.

The majority of the crimes committed by youths weren’t as violent as their older counterparts, but the questions raised is, why are youths so much more likely to commit a crime?  And what are authorities here in Durham Region doing to prevent it?

Youths make up 7 per cent of Canada’s total population but account for 13 per cent of people accused of crimes.  In 2014, roughly 101,000 youths, aged 12 to 17 were accused of criminal code violations, according to Statistics Canada.

Among these violations, the most frequent were theft under $5,000 with 960 violations, mischief with 574, common assault with 546, and possession of cannabis with 531.  The only violent crime among these is common assault.  Common assault is also known as the least serious violent crime by police.

Youths aren’t getting into very serious crimes but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they are twice as likely to commit a crime as an adult.  Why are youths committing so much crime?

A particularly interesting trend in youth crime is one in four crimes committed by youth, had more than one person involved.  In fact, co-offenders make up 42% of all youth that committed a crime.  In comparison, 24% of young adults and a mere 14% of older adults that committed a crime were co-offenders.  It’s safe to assume group or peer influence has had an effect on the youth crime rate.

1 in 10 incidents where a youth is accused of a crime is at school doing school hours or at a supervised activity/event.  Common assault and cannabis possession are the two most common crimes committed at school.

In school, at events or in a group, are often times when youth commit crimes.  These are all situations and places where they may be pressured or willing to commit an offence.

As stated earlier, the crime among youth is decreasing slowly year-by-year, but it’s still a very prominent issue in Canada and notably Durham Region.

So, what are authorities doing to fight this problem?  Durham Regional Crime Stoppers has created the ‘Your School, Your Call’ program.  This program has students from Durham Regional Police Services ‘Youth in Policing Program’ and the Durham Regional Crime Stoppers team up to create informative videos that show the challenges students face in school.  They also hope the videos make students, teachers, and family members more comfortable and without worry of repercussion when reporting inappropriate or illegal activity by reporting anonymously.

In 2014, only 48 per cent of young offenders were actually charged after being accused. The Durham Region Police have a diversion program they use that explains these low numbers.

“We have a very active program to divert [young offenders] from the court system. This is a program they have to complete but it involves restitution, it involves acknowledgement of how the action affected others.” Said David Selby of the D.R.P.S., “It’s a much more wholesome approach to turning that life around.”

Public Safety Canada also created a ‘Durham Youth Gang Strategy’ in 2012.  The program has led to “favourable changes in reducing youths’ perceptions of criminal activities, attitudes toward criminal activity, peer associates, interaction with family members, and school attendance” according to Public Safety Canada.

Lowering the rate of youth crime will take time. In addition to it’s slowly decreasing numbers, educating the youths of Durham Region and also across Canada of the dangers and potential punishments breaking the law may bring will help speed the process and lead to safer streets, homes, and classrooms in the future.