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Tom Rees | Criminal Defence Lawyer Winnipeg
23
Apr

Texas and Manitoba Jail Kids for Missing School

 

Kendall Taggart and Alex Campbell posted an article on Buzzfeed about Texas children spending time in jail for skipping school. Young people are being put on court orders for missing school and then jailed for breaching the court orders.

The young women featured in the article racked up $2100 in fines that her family could not afford to pay.

Serena was offered “jail credit” at a rate of $300 per day. She was patted down, touched “everywhere,” and dispatched to adult lockup, where she would stay for nine days, missing a week and a half of classes. The first school day after she was released, administrators kicked her out.

Click here to read the full article

The thought that a young person would be sentenced to serve time in jail for skipping school might seem horrifying, but don’t forget that Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, and a reputation for their extreme justice system.

Many people would be shocked to learn that Manitoba also jails kids for missing school. Manitoba courts jail young people for missing appointments, coming home late for curfew, running away from home, and many other activities that for most young people are not criminal.

Manitoba Youth Courts achieve this by placing young people on probation or bail conditions. Probation Orders generally range from 6 months to 24 months for young people, subjecting them to conditions like:

  • Keep the Peace and Be of Good Behaviour
  • Attend School regularly
  • Reside as directed by the Provincial Director
  • Abide by a curfew

Young people are also often sentenced to more probation for breaching their current probation order, causing an endless cycle of breaching, jail sentences and more probation.

A recent review a number of my closed files showed that many of my young clients, mostly young girls, spent more than year in custody as young people as a result of being late for curfew, missing school, or running away. Of the files I reviewed, three of the young people spent more than two years of total custody for those types of probation breaches before they turned 18 years old. As a defence lawyer, I can argue until I’m blue in the face that young people should not go to jail for these types of breaches, but the Court and Prosecution are generally not receptive to this line of reasoning.

In January of this year, a Youth Prosecutor in Manitoba asked that one of my clients be jailed for greater than three months for a single breach of probation. In that case, there was no incident or violence. The young person had mental health issues, and was being treated by the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre at the time. Had the Court granted the Crown the 3 month sentence, my client would have lost his foster placement, missed his psychiatric appointments and failed out of school for the year. Thankfully in this case, he was released to attend his psychiatric appointments and attend school.

In 2012, another one of my clients asked me not to request that the Judge release her from jail until her probationary period ended. She had been breached multiple times (greater that 50) for returning home late for her curfew and spent many months in custody as a result. This particular young person had a very serious addiction issue, and would run away from home and get into trouble to satisfy her addiction. Every time she was arrested and thrown in jail, she was at risk of losing her foster placement. On numerous occasions she was in custody for so long that her foster home was forced to give her bed to another child.

She told me that she was tired of starting over every time she was released from custody. She knew that she was struggling and that it was unlikely that she would be able to follow her probation conditions once she was released. She told me that she would rather just stay in jail until she could be released without any probation conditions. She said that if she was not on probation, at least she wouldn’t have to lose her home and support if she relapsed.

Between the ages of 12 and 17, this particular young person spent more than three years in custody as a result of probation breaches. She was ultimately not sentenced to a further period of probation, and I have not seen her since.

My view is that using jail as a consequence for probation breaches, like tardiness or running away, diminishes the usefulness or effectiveness of jail. One young person is in jail for getting home at 9:37pm instead of 9:00pm, and another is there for murder, gun related offences or gang violence. The only difference for these two young people is the length of the jail term.

The Courts and the Youth Criminal Justice Act recognize that young people do not experience the passage of time the same as adults, and therefore should be dealt with in a timely way. Young people change and mature over time, so a sentence could have one effect on a young person today, but a different one on the same young person in the future depending on their development and maturity.

So, when you read that another country is jailing young people for seemingly nothing, remember that your home province of Manitoba is doing the same thing. Manitoba is a leader in Canada for apprehending and removing young people from their families and for jailing young people. Criminal defence lawyers have been arguing for years that jailing young people for minor breach offences is counterproductive and harmful to our young people and our society, but those arguments have been mostly falling on deaf ears to date.

 

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