When considering how to contend with young offenders in Canada, the criminal justice system focuses on protecting communities while simultaneously favouring rehabilitation and reintegration over incarceration. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) outlines all the rights that young offenders would be entitled to in court. Sentencing and other aspects of law enforcement are also covered by the act, which places emphasis on more lenient sentences, such as community service or volunteering, for non-violent crimes.
When coming face to face with a young offender as a police officer, there are many important points to consider. Keep reading to learn more about what law enforcement keeps in mind when working with youth.
1. Young Offenders Are Not as Mature as Adults
There is a reason that the YCJA doesn’t treat adolescents aged 12 to 17 the same way as an adult. Youths lack the maturity of an adult, and may commit crimes for reasons such as peer pressure or bullying. In fact, on a physiological level, teenage brains are different from those of adults. As young teens enter puberty, their brains undergo dramatic changes that begin in areas like the limbic system and other emotional centres. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for complex decision-making and planning ahead, is the last part of the brain to undergo this development. This means that emotional regulation is often more difficult for teenagers than it is for adults.
2. Young Offenders May Come from Troubled Homes
Young offenders, particularly those dealing with family violence or abuse, might be at greater risk of committing crimes than peers with a larger support network. For troubled youths, shoplifting or other non-violent crimes may be a non-healthy coping mechanism they use as they navigate a difficult time.
This is one of the reasons why the Youth Criminal Justice Act places such a strong emphasis on rehabilitation. Many pilot programs have also explored alternatives to punishment through counselling, volunteering, or other approaches that aim to help young offenders understand the consequences of their actions and avoid becoming repeat offenders. After your police foundations training, you may come across such programs as you work with your community.
3. The Consequences for Young Offenders Can Be Severe
For young offenders, sentences are less severe than they are for adults. However, this is not to say that the consequences of their actions won’t have a profound impact on their lives. To start with, young offenders may not be allowed to travel to certain countries. In addition, some universities may also refuse acceptance on the grounds of an offense committed.
In addition, while clemency is often emphasized, graduates of a police foundations program know that the safety of the community is also an important aspect the Youth Criminal Justice Act considers. Particularly violent crimes or repeat offenses that keep escalating in nature may present too great a risk, and so judges may decide that a prison sentence is most appropriate. In extreme cases, judges may even consider trying a youth as an adult.
While these aspects of law enforcement can often be emotionally challenging, working in this field offers the potential to truly make a difference in the lives of troubled teens and their communities.
Are you ready help youths after you become a police officer in Ontario?
Contact Anderson College for more details!