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Youth and the Law


Supporting Youth in Conflict With the Law

How can parents and communities support youth?

Families can support young people by helping them deal with the stresses associated with adolescence. The period from 12 to 17 years is an awkward stage where youth often feel grown up but not able to participate fully in the world of adults. Most will try to test their limits, take risks, and assert their independence. This may involve participation in activities and behaviour that might create a criminal offence, like drinking, fighting, vandalism, or shoplifting. Others may turn to offending behaviours out of boredom or the absence of anything useful or meaningful to do. Youth who come into conflict with the law typically commit relatively minor offences that lessen in frequency as they grow older. As they mature, youth usually find positive ways to participate in and contribute to society. Parents should look for a variety of ways to foster positive values and social skills in their youth.

Communities can also play an important role in supporting youth and their families. Research suggests that early support for socially and economically disadvantaged youth can reduce their risks of becoming involved in long-term criminal activity. There are many ways that a community can support efforts to involve young people in useful and meaningful activities. For example, they can:

  • Try to meet the varied needs and interests of the young people in their community.
  • Create a range of inclusive and affordable educational, volunteer and recreational activities for youth.
  • Work with youth to find a place where they can feel welcome.
  • Ensure access to social services that can help youth and their families to deal with problems at the root the offending behaviour.
  • Promote opportunities for the economic security of young people and their families.

What Kind of Programs Help Youth in Conflict with the Law?

  • Programs that manage and treat youth according to risk levels.
  • Programs that match the needs of the youth with a variety of interventions and appropriate rehabilitative programming.
  • Programs that respond to the individual offender.
  • Programs that provide the most intensive services to higher risk offenders.
  • Programs that allow staff to interact with the youth in sensitive and positive ways.
  • Programs that train and supervise the staff who work with youth.
  • Programs that treat youth with respect.

Research on treating delinquent youth and helping youth at risk, shows that appropriate programs and services must respond to the complex and diverse range of factors that promote anti-social behavior in youth.

What is Youth Rehabilitation?

  • Rehabilitation for youth sometimes means specific clinical interventions. However, it can also include a broader range of programs and services. Here are some key elements of rehabilitation programs and services for youth.
  • Programs that help a young person who has been in conflict with the law to relate to conventional values, activities and persons;
  • Programs that help the young person to develop skills for functioning in positive ways in society
  • Programs that allow the young person to use newly acquired skills
  • Programs that reduce the influence of delinquent peers.

What Skills Help Youth from Re-offending?

  • cognitive skills training which addresses anti-social thinkingvalues training
  • social skills training
  • life-skills training
  • educational, pre-employment and job training
  • psychological and educational counselling and training programs dealing with issues such as anger management, conflict resolution and substance abuse.

Every youth program and service promotes the development of a various kinds of skills. Correctional rehabilitation programs are most concerned with introducing the positive skills or competencies that the youth lacked when he or she engaged in criminal activity.

Promising Youth Rehabilitation Programs Typically Include ……

  • psychological and educational interventions that help build social and personal competencies (i.e. cognitive skills training, social and life skills training);
  • residential therapeutic communities
  • group counselling (i.e. substance abuse, anger management, conflict resolution);
  • intensive community supervision and non-custodial rehabilitative interventions (i.e. alternative education, substance abuse or anger management program).

Should Young People be Treated in Custody?

Most young people who commit offences can participate in treatment services and programs in the community. The value of community based programs for youth at risk is well documented. This is particularly so for youth who chronically offend. The most effective programs are intensive community based ones that target interventions to the individual needs of each youth. Sometimes they are even more effective than custodial programs. Violent youth in custody may need to participate in treatment programs in residential or custodial settings. Unfortunately, studies show that the positive gains made by youth in closed custody programs tend to lessen when they are released. We can temper this by closely monitoring and involving these youth in programs at the community level after release.

Do Rehabilitation Programs Keep Youth from Re-offending?

They certainly help. But not every youth that commits an offence needs treatment. Research shows that involving low-risk, low-need youths in correctional programs may actually increase their chances of re-offending. An effective preventive strategy may be to direct non-violent youth away from the criminal justice system and provide parents and communities with the resources to deal with the young person.

Youth who are release from custody are most likely to re-offend in the first several months. (We call this recidivism.) Rehabilitation programs that promote successful community re-entry include follow-up in a transitional community based program. This greatly increases chances that the youth will not re-offend. However, we cannot judge the success of treatment programs only on the basis of re-offending. We must also look at other forms of program success such as providing troubled youth with a supportive adult relationship.

This pamphlet does not contain a complete statement of the law in this area and laws change from time to time. Anyone needing advice on his or her specific legal position should consult a lawyer.

Researched by: Centre for Research on Youth at Risk, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, N.B. E3B 5G3 (506) 452-0456

Published and Edited by:

Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 6000 Fredericton, N.B.
Tel: (506) 453-5369
Fax: (506) 462-5193

Funding provided by Justice Canada
March 2003


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