Why Are Young Offenders Still In The Driver's Seat?
Mar 14, 2007
The issue of car thefts has been very much at the forefront of discussion amongst Winnipeggers and in the media of late. A majority of this focus has been on the youth who commit these crimes, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The problem has become so severe in recent weeks that Manitoba Public Insurance is now forcing one of Winnipeg’s most prolific car thieves to pay $110,000 in damages.
Even Manitoba’s Justice Minister Dave Chomiak has pointed out that it is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code to steal a cow, but not a car. He has joined in the chorus of calls to the Federal Government to make amendments to the relatively new Youth Criminal Justice Act that would give prosecutors more power to hold suspected auto thieves in custody. Many have also requested Criminal Code changes that would make car theft a crime on its own. This would allow convictions to carry heavier penalties.
The Harper Government is reported to be considering the introduction of a bill as early as this month that would propose harsher treatment for young offenders. This might include a provision that would make it automatic that “violent and repeat” offenders over the age of 13 receive adult sentences. That might not be acceptable to the Supreme Court, who may determine that punishing youth as adults is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Discussions about car theft and youth crime in general often focus almost exclusively on the legal and punitive aspects. It is easy to suggest that we simply make the punishment harsher. But would that serve as a deterrent to offenders? It seems that most of those that commit these types of crime aren’t particularly concerned about the consequences of their actions.
There are other dimensions to this problem as well. What is causing the apparent increase in this type of criminal activity? There have always been issues of vandalism and petty crimes attributable to youth. That likely won’t go away. But we’ve seen an increase in both the severity of crimes committed and in the frequency with which these types of crimes are occurring. Is there a way to identify what changes have taken place - whether in society, or economically, or in the family perhaps – that can help explain this phenomenon? Often media coverage isn’t a real reflection of reality in terms of things like crime. Criminologists will continue to insist that crime rates are not increasing. Is this a case of perception being out of line, or are we really dealing with something that is on the increase?
One thing that we need to do is to ensure that the proper programs are in place for families so as to ensure that their children have opportunities to become engaged in more productive activities. At the very least, youth need a variety of positive options that would allow them to channel their energies. We should take a good hard look to see if these needs are being met.
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