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Tom Rees | Criminal Defence Lawyer Winnipeg

Can We Learn from the Mistakes Made in Texas?

Manitoba does not have an enviable record when it comes to jailing children. The Federal Government of Canada amended the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2012 to allow for increased jail sentences for children to deter them from committing offences while crimes committed by young people continue unaffected.

Texas is trying something new. Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Alex Mierjesky has written a very interesting article for Vice News about Texas’ new approach to youth justice.

After examining a wide range of data over an eight-year period, a new study published yesterday by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center determined that a decline in the state’s youth incarceration led to lower overall juvenile crime rates. (click here to link to the article)

Canada’s government is taking the opposite approach. My experience is that the Crown in Manitoba makes more adult sentencing applications recently than in the past. The prosecutors are taking the position that the maximum youth sentence is appropriate more often, and asking for more jail time than ever before.

Young people are dynamic. Who they were yesterday may not be who they are today, and who they are today will differ from the adult they ultimately become. If a 14 year old is sentenced to 5 years in custody, they will enter custody as a child, and exit jail as an adult. Young people’s brains develop, they mature and they gain life experience as they age. They are more likely reliant on adults when they are 14 than when they are 19 years old. Given these differences and changes, it is impossible to craft a long custodial sentence that is appropriate for the child who is sentenced that will remain appropriate as they age, mature and become adults.

Canada should revise it’s approach to youth crime because it appears Texas, the state with the highest incarceration rate in the United States, is doing a better job at reducing youth crime and the number of young people in custody then we are.