How does a young person end up in jail for breaking a fence? I recently had a case where a young person spend two nights in jail for breaking two boards on a fence at his house. He was on probation at the time. He had another charge pending of failing to report to his probation officer.
This young person had a record for a single incident from more than a year ago. Nobody was harmed in that incident.
He was arrested by police after they received a call that he had broken the fence. The police told me that they were opposed to his release, and that he would be taken to the Manitoba Youth Centre (MYC) after he was processed.
His matter made it to court the next afternoon. He had been in police custody for approximately 24 hours before his matter was first heard by a judge. As it turned out, his pending charge for failing to report to his probation officer was not properly on the docket in youth bail court that afternoon, and his matter was adjourned to the next day.
Manitoba has a process, which codified in the Criminal Code, that the Crown can ask the Court to grant a one day adjournment to allow for all the charges to be gathered up and put on a single docket. In this case, the Crown was granted their request and the young man’s matter was adjourned and he spent another night in custody.
My client was lucky that he was arrested on a Tuesday instead of a Thursday. Young people in my client’s situation who are arrested on Thursdays are often not eligible to apply for bail until the following Monday, totalling four nights in custody before the possibility of release.
The clerks and magistrates at the court work diligently to get all of the paperwork properly completed as fast as possible. And, to the Crown Prosecutor’s credit in this case, my client was released at the earliest point that all of his charges were in the same court, on the same docket.
However, the Police in this case could have released my client after processing him at the police station. The Police have the ability to put people on certain conditions and then release them to appear in court later. In this case, it was clear that my client would not be held in custody for the fence incident, but the Police decided to detain him at MYC anyway.
That decision by Police cost you a lot of money. You paid for a young person to be supervised by staff at MYC for three full days, including feeding him, assessing him at the nursing station, and facilitating the initial visit by his parents. They caused a lawyer, covered by Legal Aid, to attend court on two occasions, one for more than three hours. They added a matter to an already lengthy docket, and caused the prosecutor to assess and appear on the matter twice, once after reviewing the matter for the proper release conditions. The Youth Bail Management Program assessed my client to confirm his eligibility for that program. The Clerks of the Court had to cancel a previous court date, and alter all of the court documents.
All of this adds up to a significant amount of tax money for this case alone. Unfortunately, in reality that amount of money can by multiplied many hundreds of times to account for all of the other children who are arrested and detained at the MYC before being released with the consent of the Crown.
Aside from the monetary waste, the decision by the Police to detain him also caused a young person to go to jail for an offence that would not attract any jail as punishment. This is the case with many of the young people who are detained by police at MYC. When the police do this, they are undermining the objectives of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
The YCJA demands that Canada reduce its over reliance on jail for non-violent young people.
AND WHEREAS Canadian society should have a youth criminal justice system that commands respect, takes into account the interests of victims, fosters responsibility and ensures accountability through meaningful consequences and effective rehabilitation and reintegration, and that reserves its most serious intervention for the most serious crimes and reduces the over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent young persons;
That statement is part of the pre-amble to the YCJA. It is not law, but it assists in interpreting the YCJA because it tells us the intention of the legislature that passed the act or amendments.
The YCJA also demands that young people be dealt with in a timely manner:
3. (1) The following principles apply in this Act:
- (b) the criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults, must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability and must emphasize the following:
- (iv) timely intervention that reinforces the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences, and
- (v) the promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this Act must act, given young persons’ perception of time;
My client was granted bail three days (two nights) after going into custody. His matter will be dealt with months from now. His experience with the youth criminal justice system highlights some of the ways our system falls short of its goals. The YCJA was introduced to solve problems with over-incarceration created by its predecessor legislation, but the over-arching principles of the YCJA can be lost in its implementation.
Courts, Prosecutors and Defence Attorneys need to be cognizant of the principles of the YCJA to ensure that the ultimate objectives of the YCJA and our justice system are achieved. However, the Police have the first opportunity to follow the guiding principles of the YCJA. The Police should start releasing young people who are not eligible for jail as the YCJA demands. The Police should be aware that every time they send a young person to jail who is then released by a Prosecutor a few days later, they waste an enormous amount of resources and taxpayer money that could be used for something productive.
- Click here to read Tom Rees & Company’s article about Texas and Manitoba Jailing Kids for Missing School