Cutting youth justice programs brings long-term consequences
Jul 30, 2012 By Matthew Friedberg
I am not surprised that the federal government is cutting funding for
youth justice. Indeed, it is completely consistent with this
government’s myopic approach to crime prevention and obsession with
incarceration. I believe that probably the best and only true way to
deal with crime prevention starts in the home and community with
education and the fostering of virtue and values.
However, when that fails for a myriad of social reasons, the state is
left to deal with the problem. This state intervention really manifests
itself into two different modes of action.
The first focuses on rehabilitation and behaviour modification
through education, community-based state sponsored programs and
diversionary alternatives to punishment when the crimes are often
committed by youth and where the criminal acts are usually less serious.
At this stage, there is a better chance of reaching the person before
he is beyond hope and rehabilitation. The goal is to change future
behaviour, motives and values. The second is with penal consequences,
including jail. It is base punishment – condemnation, retribution,
deterrence. While many sentences in our courts include both
rehabilitation and punishment in their makeup, let’s be honest, there is
very little rehabilitative value in jail – at least in our detention
It strikes me that we, as a society, should focus as much attention
and resources on the rehabilitation of our youth as we possibly can. Our
youth are our future; if we don’t try to rehabilitate them now, we
will spend exponentially more down the road punishing them through
We all stand to benefit from this approach. Its inherent value is
obvious. I’m not saying there is no room for punishment in our system;
far from it. Some people have to be removed from society. That’s
a reality of living in a modern cosmopolitan world. However, to focus on
punishment to the exclusion of rehabilitation should be a last resort.
We, as a society, should do all we can for our fellow citizens before we
need to lock them up.
The problem is that this government perceives this approach to be
weak and soft on crime. In an age of oversimplification of issues, quick
fixes and a fear-mongering media, cutting funds from “programs” and
dumping them into prosecuting mandatory minimum sentences and
incarceration appeals to many – it gets votes. However, cutting back on
programs for troubled youth now only requires focusing on penal
consequences in the long run. That hurts all of us because as the youth
get older their crimes become more serious and hurtful to society. It
also costs much more to incarcerate an adult than it does to
rehabilitate a youth who is out of custody.
Sadly, the only thing that cutting back on youth justice does is
require more money to be spent on adult justice. It seems to me that
we’d all be better off trying to make our kids better now than writing
them off as adults later. However, that takes vision, dedication of
resources and a commitment to a future that goes well beyond the next