Wednesday 19 July 2017

Abuses against young offenders

In 1980, I discovered a U.S. report on the abuses brought upon young offenders held in U.S. federal government young offender facilities. That was the same year that I was invited by the United Nations to attend at the Sixth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders being held in Caracas, Venezuela. 

In a scathing speech that I gave; was about the U.S. government physically abusing the young offenders in their young offender’s facilities. The U.S. delegation was embarrassed when they heard my speech and subsequently sought permission to respond to my allegations. Permission was granted and the head of the delegation admitted that what I said was true and the delegation agreed with my statement that the U.N. should create a bill of rights for young offenders. He said that his delegation was going to bring in a resolution the following morning to order the U.N. to conduct a series of studies on my proposal around the world and that the U.S. needed seven nations to be seconders to their resolution. That night, I met with the head of the U.S. delegation and he asked me to help him draft of their resolution. The next morning, all the nations voted in favour of the U.S. resolution. 

Studies were conducted all over the world during the next five years. The final draft the Bill of Rights for Young Offenders was created in Beijing, China and in September 1985, it was put to a vote at the Seventh U.N. Congress being held in Milan. All the nations attending gave their approval to forward it to the U.N. General Assembly in New York for their final vote.  

In November 1985, the U.N. General Assembly voted in favour of the draft that was then referred to the Beijing Rules and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Administration of Juvenile Justice. I am recognized by the U.N. as the precursor of the U.N. rules for the rights of young offenders.

As the years moved on, I was dismayed when reading about new accounts of abuses being committed against young offenders so I wrote another paper on that subject. I was invited to speak at conferences being held in Belgium and Peru about my concerns that young offenders were still being abused.  Then in 2005, I was invited to speak at the Tenth U.N. Congress being held in Bangkok, Thailand. My paper which was distributed to all the delegations was titled; Why do we as a society, still abuse young offenders?  What follows is my speech.

The Rules were to have an effect on millions upon millions of children around the world—children in need of protection from abuse in our justice and correctional systems. To the children in trouble with the law in many of the signatories to the convention, the Rules were a blessing.

Unfortunately, some signatories have, since 1986, ignored some of the various rights that were to be afforded to these unfortunate children. It is the purpose of this paper to give descriptions of some of the abuses that were heaped upon some of these young offenders who were supposed to be protected under the auspices of these Rules.

In 1980, my main complaint that prompted me to suggest the creation of a bill of rights for young offenders were about problems related to government correctional facilities that were housing young offenders. A quarter of a century later, there are still problems in government young offender correctional facilities and this is still one of my main complaints.

Section 13.5 of the Rules states that “while in custody, juveniles shall receive care, protection and all necessary individual social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical assistance that they may require in view of their age, sex and personality.”

In my own country, Canada, it takes pride in treating its young offenders in a decent manner. On any given day in the years 2002 and 2003, an average of just over 29,400 young people age 12 to 17 were either in custody or under supervised probation. The vast majority (90% or about 26,400 youths) were on probation and yet, we as a nation had problems in the past relating to the mistreatment of our young charges.

Beginning in 1925, training schools for young offenders operated in various forms across Ontario in Canada as reformatories for wayward children, often as young as eight and often for “crimes” as minor as truancy and obscene phone calls. Many training schools continued to house children aged 12 to 18 until the mid-1980s, when passage of the federal Young Offenders Act formally signaled the end of the training-school era in Canada. Many of the young offenders who attended those institutions in the 1960s and 1970s suffered lifelong emotional scars. Many later had drug and alcohol addictions and struggled to stay out of jail and more often than not, their struggles were in vain.

Brutal and uncaring staff in these institutions abused these young children in both boys and girls institutions. The children were sexually and physically abused. I remember when I worked in such an institution when in 1956 it was common practice in that institution and other similar institutions across Canada to strap the children after they were ordered to strip naked. On two occasions, I was ordered to strap two teenage boys on their buttocks, one for disobeying an order and the other for bullying a smaller inmate. I regretted it then and I regret it even now, having to inflict that kind of punishment on those two young offenders. Canada finally realized that corporal punishment was counterproductive and in 1975, it was no longer applied in government institutions or prisons and it isn’t permitted in our schools either. In fact, in Canada, it is considered torture and any official who tortures another person in Canada can be sent to prison for 14 years.

In the latter part of the last century, stories began filtering out of these institutions of staff members sexually abusing hundreds of the children in these institutions across Canada. At least 89 young victims had been subjected to abusive acts at three facilities in the province of Nova Scotia. Over 60 former students in one institution described the acts of abuse to which they had been subjected. There were reports of 205 occurrences of physical abuse and 103 incidents of sexual abuse. The boys were not believed and were instructed by the superintendent of that institution to stop making false accusations against the staff. In a girl’s institution in that province, nine former residents of the Nova Scotia School for Girls tendered evidence at an Inquiry of acts of physical and sexual abuse. The girls were 13 to 16 years old at the time the acts occurred. The sexual abuse included sexual intercourse, oral and anal sex. Both male and female counsellors at the school were responsible for those acts of sexual and physical abuse.

In the province of New Brunswick, 48 victims of abuse testified at an Inquiry into the sexual abuses taking place in the New Brunswick Training School, which ironically had been designated as a ‘place of safety.’ for young offenders. The perpetrator of most of these crimes against the children was a staff member called Karl Toft. These abuses occurred for over a period of 30 years, beginning in 1962. Children were beaten and sexually assaulted; some of the sexual acts included buggery and fondling of genitalia. Toft got 12 years in prison for his crimes.

Before I get into more of our past problems, let me speak briefly about the Province of Ontario which is the second largest province in Canada, so that you have some concept of this part of Canada when I refer to it later in my paper. The size of Ontario is 12 times larger than Peru. Of course, Peru has incredible mountains, something that Ontario doesn’t have and Peru has that beautiful lake, Titicaca but Ontario has 250,000 lakes, some of them being the largest in the world. The population of Ontario is currently twelve and a half million people. Its largest city, Toronto along with the immediate surrounding communities, has five million people in which over half of them are people who immigrated to Canada from other countries.

We  in  Ontario  as  others  in  Canada  like  to  think  of  ourselves  as  an enlightened province but unfortunately, we too have had our failings when it came to justice for young offenders.     

The Ontario Training School for Girls, renamed the Grandview Training School for Girls in 1967, was located in Cambridge, Ontario. The girls who attended the training school were wards of the Ontario government which was responsible for the care, custody and control of these so-called wayward girls. Some had been found guilty of petty crimes, others were orphans, some were children found begging and some were even children whose parents were in prison. They were all sent to Grandview. These were terrible reasons for incarcerating children. I am happy to say that that isn’t done anymore in Canada. It has been estimated that over 200 girls in that institution were abused. There were probably more than were unreported. The abuse involved beatings, breaking of limbs, pushing children down stairs, arbitrary and exploitative internal examinations which were not medically justified, strappings, meals withheld as punishment, insufficient food and nutrition, and forced abortions are just some of the acts of physical abuse to which the girls were subjected. The acts of sexual abuse included digital penetration, oral sex, penetration of objects, anal sex, masturbation, sexual intercourse, and fondling of breasts and buttocks. The hair of residents was cut without their consent, girls were compelled to give up their babies for adoption, and many girls were forced to strip off their clothes before the male guards as a form of degradation. There was excessive and cruel use of solitary confinement during which the girls were deprived of food, toilet facilities, and clothes.

The St. John's Training School was located in Uxbridge, northwest of Toronto and opened in 1895. The St. Josephs Training School was established in 1933 in Alfred, Ontario, 70 kilometres east of Ottawa. These institutions were operated by the Christian Brothers, a religious order associated with the Roman Catholic Church and they were funded by the Ontario government. Both institutions were governed by the Training Schools Act. Initially, the Department of Reform Institutions and then the Ministry of Correctional Services was responsible for St. John's and St. Joseph's. The boys sent to these training schools ranged in age from 7 to 17 years old. Some of them were wards of the Children's Aid Society; who had been mistreated and neglected children and were in need of protection. Several had been sent to these institutions by their school principals, parents or priests who believed that the training schools would be beneficial to their development. Some of the boys had committed theft offences and had been committed to the school for an indefinite term. Others had not been convicted of a crime, but rather had been deemed incorrigible or unmanageable by a judge because they did not regularly attend school or they stayed out late at night.

The abusive acts in these two training schools were not isolated but rather occurred with regularity right up to the 1980s. Brutal strappings occurred publicly and in isolation. The boys were handcuffed behind their backs with shackles on each foot, hit with hockey sticks, beaten with razor straps, compelled to stand outdoors in the cold with little clothing, and forced to run until they collapsed from exhaustion. Those who attempted to run away faced serious consequences. They would be subjected to beatings on bare buttocks with a razor strap or a paddle, then handcuffed and shackled and placed in solitary confinement for as long as two weeks. Their diet consisted of bread and water. Habitual runaways were handcuffed to their beds at night. Residents who refused to perform sexual acts on the Christian Brothers were beaten. The food at the schools was inadequate and of poor quality. It has been reported that poor medical treatment was responsible for the deaths of some of the boys. Sodomy, mutual masturbation, oral sex, fondling of genitals were some of the sexual acts perpetrated on the boys. There were over 400 former children of these two institutions who alleged they were subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse during their years at St. Joseph's and St. John's. Happily, these institutions were finally closed down and the abusers punished. End of my speech.

Time doesn’t permit me to take you into the other young offender institutions across Canada run by their respective governments and native residential schools run by catholic and protestant churches where the young charges were physically and sexually abused. It is suffice to say however that that there has been a great improvement across all of Canada in the manner in which we treat young people in our institutions but we as a nation still have to live with the shame of our treatment of young people that took place in our institutions in the past. Our current system of the treatment and care of young offenders in Canada generally works but even though we have what we consider a just society, it has had its failures. These failures can be attributed to staff brutality, indifference and outright stupidity. These problems occur because juvenile corrections staff often respond to the conditions of their work with hopelessness and resentment, and these negative attitudes are too frequently expressed through the brutal and inconsistent treatment of the young offenders under their care. Consequently, many confined young offenders lose all respect for authority figures while in custody and later when released back into society.

I would be remiss however if I didn’t bring to your attention an incident that happened just a few years ago in a local government institution in Toronto where young offenders waiting for their trials were kept. I will not be speaking of brutality but rather that equally terrible scourge in our young offender facilities—outright stupidity on the part of staff. In a local government operated institution in Toronto, a sixteen-year-old boy who was mentally ill and had been charged with stealing cheques from his relatives, was sent to this detention centre while waiting for his trial. While there, he was constantly teased by other inmates and made to eat his own vomit off the floor. Finally, he had enough and after he was locked in his cell, he wrapped a bed sheet around his neck and hanged himself with the other end of the bed sheet tied to a metal bar at the top of his bunk 

It was here that the real stupidity of the staff ran amok. The guard, who walked by and saw him hanging, wasn’t able to cut the dying boy down because he had been forbidden to carry a knife when doing his rounds.

He reached for his radio and finding it missing, he left the youth hanging by his neck and walked to a control station at the end of the range to summon help. He not only walked to the control centre to avoid panic but stopped on the way back to put three youths who were in an open area back into their cells — a process that involved unlocking and then relocking the cells. When he finally got back to the victim’s cell, the boy was near death.

The prison nurse, who after being informed that the boy was hanging by his neck, neglected to bring any resuscitation equipment with her and had to return to the health station for it, and another officer who arrived at the cell could not cut the youth down because he too did not have with him the C-shaped knife used for such emergencies.

This mentally ill youth, managed to end his life on Oct. 1, 2002 while under a suicide watch—he died hours later after he was rushed to a hospital. 

The  stupidity  of  the  staff occurred that night despite the fact that at least five  other  inmates  in  that  correctional  facility  had  earlier attempted  to  hang themselves using sheets. The 130-bed detention centre for 16- and 17-year-old youths awaiting trial had previously been condemned by that province’s child advocate as being chaotic and unsafe. That young offender’s facility was finally closed down. Canada is certainly not the only country in the world that has abused young people in their care. When I gave my address at the Sixth United Nations Congress held in Caracas in 1980, I spoke of the abuses in government- operated young offender facilities in the United States. I chose the United States as my choice of complaint for two reasons. Their freedom of information made that possible and I have always felt from my past experiences in school yards as a child, that if you want to get a point across to your fellow students, stand up to the biggest kid in the school. Don’t get me wrong. I love Americans and have spent a great deal of time travelling around the United States over the years.

But the Americans had problems in their past also and it was these problems that I was bringing to the attention of the delegates at that 1980 U.N. Congress.

One such American institution was doing medical experiments on the children and when some of the children died; their parents were told that their children had run away. One crazy superintendent of one of the institutions kept the kids in solitary confinement for six months. They saw no light or heard any sound. It was his belief that this would erase their memories and they could be retrained into being good children. Well over the years, all that kind of conduct stopped in the government operated institutions in the United States.

As I mentioned earlier, my original concerns were the manner in which young offenders were dealt with in government operated young offender facilities but now there is even a greater problem that is facing young offenders. I am speaking of correctional facilities that are operated by private organizations. What follows are some of the horror stories that have come to light of what has occurred inside some of these young offenders facilities for boys and girls in the United States.

Established by both law and policy, the institutions were supposed to rehabilitate and treat children charged with misdeeds ranging from refusing to attend school to homicide.

A 48-page report made public in 2003 by investigators in the United States painted a bleak picture of the privately-run institutions as debilitating dumping grounds for troubled children. Woefully underfinanced, understaffed and ill-equipped, the institutions and their poorly trained workers doled out a volatile mix of physical and verbal abuse and in some institutions, mandatory Bible study, but at the same time, they withheld basic medical care and a decent education—all in violation of the covenant that that country signed with the United Nations.

Investigators who descended on the institutions four times in 2003 found ample evidence to declare that children as young as ten were being mistreated. Here are some examples of the mistreatment those children were subjected to.

Boys and girls were routinely hogtied and placed in dark cells,  shackled to poles or locked in restraint chairs for hours for minor infractions such as talking in the cafeteria or not saying "Yes” or “No,  sir."

Girls were made to run while carrying tires and boys while carrying logs, sometimes to the point of vomiting and they were often forced to eat their own vomit.

Boys  and  girls  were  also  choked,  slapped,  beaten  and  attacked  with pepper spray as a form of punishment.

Girls  at  a  training  school  for  girls  who  misbehaved or were on suicide watch were stripped naked and left in a windowless, stifling cinder-block cell, with nothing but the concrete floor to sleep on and a hole in the floor for a toilet, for several days and sometimes even a week at a time. One girl had been locked in a bare cell while naked for 114 straight days.

The ‘Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice’ clearly states that young offenders who are in correctional facilities should be properly medically cared for and yet there were some young offender facilities where this edict was not being adhered to.

The  acting  head  nurse  at  the  aforementioned  training  school  ignored children's  injuries  and  illnesses,  refused  to  help  girls  fainting  from  heat  and she even blocked children from having access to the visiting doctor. The nurse at another young offender training camp was seen immunizing two children for Hepatitis B with the same needle. Dental care was nonexistent, and the dental clinic at that young offenders training camp was a mess of mouse droppings, dead roaches and long-expired medicines.
 A sixteen-year-old boy in one of the young offender training camps should have been in a hospital instead of doing construction work and then being forced to do pushups. The boy collapsed with a severe lung infection at the camp for delinquents. 

After doing construction in the morning, he was assigned to leaf cleanup. When he balked, staffers ordered him to do calisthenics. When he refused again, they put him in an isolation barracks. When he fought back, they placed him in a ''control position.'' When he defecated on himself, they carried him to a shower. When he would not get dressed, they put clothes on him and helped him do more calisthenics. At one point, the staff helped the boy do push-ups by grabbing his belt and pulling him up and down. Shortly after that, the boy died.

At the time of his death, the boy’s lungs were filled with pus—the byproduct of pneumonia, bronchitis and strep and staph infections. He had been sick with empyema, an accumulation of pus in the lining between his left lung and chest cavity which had been reducing the elasticity in his left lung for weeks. Finally, after that hellish day at the institution, his heart stopped beating for lack of oxygen. That privately-run young offender’s facility was closed down.

When a fifteen-year-old boy was sent by the court to another privatized young offender’s facility in March 2003 after a string of burglaries, he hoped to get treatment for his bipolar disorder, which relatives say arose from sexual abuse he suffered at age 3. But in letters to his father, the boy was soon begging to be transferred to a state mental hospital.

Despite the fact that he was to be given psychiatric treatment, he had only been visited by a therapist for two minutes. He had been given his punishment but denied what he needed most—psychiatric treatment.

Though mentally ill and retarded children belong elsewhere, 66 to 85 percent of the young offender correctional training camps residents were found to have mental disorders and 9 percent were  suicidal.  Yet psychiatrists spent an average of just one day a month on campus, mainly performing court evaluations and not treating patients. Individual staff members handled as many as 30 children each, allowing for little of the personal attention as required by law.

New students at some institutions were kept out of classes for three to five weeks, violating compulsory attendance laws. They were routinely pulled from class for work details, and those in isolation got sporadic instruction or none at all. In the year 2001, there was an investigation into the death of a fourteen-year-old boy at a desert boot camp for troubled youth. He was dehydrated delirious and forced to eat mud by his counselor. Other campers told of abusive treatment they said they had suffered at the hands of staff members who were not much older than the children they were supervising. Children at the camp were punched, kicked, handcuffed and forced to swallow mud regularly. The younger campers were often made to ingest dirt that turned to mud after staff members poured water into their mouths. They said they were allowed to wear only black sweat pants and sweatshirts in temperatures that regularly exceeded 37 degrees Celsius and were physically abused for asking for food, water or medical attention. That privately-run camp was shut down also.

The fourteen-year-old boy was one of many children to die in a series of incidents in recent years at so-called wilderness therapy camps for young people in which rugged conditions and tough discipline were used to break antisocial and, in many cases, criminal habits. Many of the camps were not regulated by government authorities but were run by private organizations.                                

At one such camp, on one occasion, all the campers were told to lie on their backs alongside one another after which the teenage staff members wearing boots; ran across their chests. Complaints, the boys said, were answered with physical punishment. They would make the boys stand up at attention, and if they moved they'd punch the boys in their stomachs. In one instance, the campers were made to place rocks along a trail and if the boys didn't do it right, the teenage staff members would stomp on the arms of the boys. In one instance, a boy’s arm was broken as a result of being stomped on.  The boys said they were frightened of the man in charge of the camp. It was alleged that he once held a knife to the throat of an older boy who wanted to quit the program. What government in its right mind would hire teenagers as staff in such facilities? In privately run facilities, this can happen as teenagers hired by these business firms will work for less than their adult counterparts. In many of these privately-run young offender facilities, there was no real supervision and as such, the young inmates were often brutalized by stronger inmates.         

In one privately operated training school, the girls were repeatedly pepper-sprayed while running up and down a hill 125 times. If a girl stopped to catch her breath, the staff member nearest her would pepper spray her in her face.  

The first military-style boot camp for young offenders was built in Orleans Parish in the state of Louisianna in 1985. Throughout the '80s and '90s, dozens more opened in the United States, as politicians reacted to voter panic about youth crime. At the time, the idea seemed sound—forcing army-style discipline on delinquents would add structure to the lives of kids. By learning the merits of discipline and teamwork, young offenders would gain self-respect and motivation.

I personally advocated the use of such camps over the years because I saw the maturing of teenagers that attended children’s camps when they learned how to rough it in the wilds. However, in those camps, they had the option to not rough it. Enforced roughing it in the wilds doesn’t work. 

New Jersey's boot camp for juvenile offenders opened in 1996 amid numerous studies documenting that similar camps in other states were ineffective in rehabilitating wayward teenagers.           

The governor of the State of New Jersey promised everyone that New Jersey's camp would be different, mainly because of its follow-up program, which she called the most intensive in the nation. She told reporters at the boot camp's first graduation in June 1996, that each graduate would get frequent visits from a parole counselor and a volunteer mentor for eight months. Despite the governor’s promise, the mentor program was never implemented, though some boot camp graduates had mentors visited them for several months through private agencies. Graduates were visited by parole counselors, but because of caseloads that often averaged around 40 teenagers, weekly or semi-weekly visits often last only a few minutes.

There have been as many as 53 publicly funded boot camps for juveniles in the United States, with bed spaces for 4,500 kids. Enthusiasm for the boot camp model however is quickly tapering off. Officials in the State of Georgia in the United States also abandoned the boot camp model after it was discovered the program wasn't reducing youth crime rates. Similar facilities for juveniles have been closed in Colorado, North Dakota and Arizona. Project Turnaround was Ontario's first private sector strict discipline/boot camp secure custody program for young offenders ages 16 and 17 which began operations in July 1997.

A private correctional organization called Encourage Youth Corporation was awarded the contract to operate the facility. The rules at that boot camp were strict: up at 6, school from 8 until noon, then vocational training all afternoon. Physical exercise or drill was conducted three times a day and there was no television in the facility. Such was life for the 32 young offenders at Project Turnaround, Ontario's debut "boot camp" for juvenile criminals who were there at any particular time. Did it work? Apparently not. The evaluation of the short-lived experiment in which over two hundred young criminals were kept in that facility, showed that when they were released, they re-offended at the same rate as others who were released from ordinary secure custody facilities. Worse yet, they achieved less academically, making them less able to get good jobs and thereby, more likely causing them to re-offend.

Some countries are filling their juvenile halls and training schools with children guilty of lesser offenses—either to justify the costs of new detention centers, or because no other option exists. Many of the poorest countries have no group homes or short-term treatment centers for young offenders. They end up using training schools as a catch basin for all the child and youth problems in their countries.

If the treatment of young offenders in the United States and Canada; two countries that love freedom and their children, was so shabby in the past in some of their young offender correctional facilities, imagine if you will, what must be happening to imprisoned young offenders in third world countries where those countries don’t have the money to build suitable facilities and train staff on how to treat their young charges. In some communities, juvenile detention facilities are simply the first stop on a road that invariably leads directly to an adult prison.

Experts say there is little mystery about how the facilities for young offenders reached such a deplorable state. Public concern for treating juvenile offenders had waned, as had the attention of child-advocacy groups, to battles considered already won. Legislators had repeatedly cut financing for the young offender facilities saying the need for more funding wasn’t there.

Some government young offender facilities in Canada and the United States that were run by provincial, state and federal governments cared for their young charges and treated them decently but many did not. 

Child development and juvenile justice experts agree that in theory, youths should not be treated in the criminal justice system in the same manner as adults. For example, juvenile corrections facilities should provide a setting for establishing positive relationships that influence the healthy development of young offenders. Unfortunately, juvenile incarceration has not been particularly successful in producing better young citizens. This is because for the most part, juvenile justice is too often characterized by inconsistent laws, policies, and variations in enforcement and the systematic oppression of young people. Not only do these youth expect to spend time in detention, some think of it as a rite of passage. The environment within a juvenile facility may actually foster criminality. Juveniles exchange information, criminal skills, and the values and beliefs of a criminal subculture.

In  the  province  of  Ontario,  the  Ministry  of  Corrections  supervises the detention and release of young offenders and is designed to effect a change in the attitudes of those individuals in order to prevent them from re-offending. All correctional officers who work in young offender correctional facilities receive basic and advanced training to enable them to appropriately carry out their tasks. Their training includes education and information regarding the prohibition against mistreatment in a correctional setting. All correctional staff receive education and training in relevant statutes and regulations, security protocols, principles of ethics, the proper use of force and the effective use of non-physical intervention and communications.

Nowadays, young persons in Canada who are charged with relatively minor criminal offences, such as shoplifting, may be eligible for alternative measures programs unique to each province. In Ontario, young persons who are guilty of such offences, may apply to the local Crown Attorney to be considered for alternative measures. If approved, the criminal charges will be withdrawn or stayed upon the young persons' undertakings to do community work, write apologies to his victim, make restitution, write essays, or do some public service in what we refer to as community service. There are other various sentencing options available to young offenders including an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge, a fine, a prohibition order  such  as,  not  possess  a  weapon of any kind, probation, open custody, or secure custody.

An absolute discharge means no sentence other than the finding of guilt and no record of a conviction is registered. A conditional discharge provides the same, conditional upon satisfactory completion of a period of probation. Community service orders are administered by a local community service co-ordinator or probation officer and often involve work in community centres for seniors or the environment. Open custody means removal from the home for a fixed term and placement in a group home setting. Although there may be no bars on the doors and windows of an open custody placement, rules and staff provide significant limits to one's freedom.

Secure custody means jail for young persons with bars and electronic security. Young persons sentenced to open or secure custody do not receive the statutory or earned remission or parole that adults receive. Young persons serve the full time to which they are sentenced. In Ontario, there are no weekend or intermittent sentences for young persons. An adolescent who has  served  6 months of his or her custody term may apply to the original sentencing judge to reduce the custodial portion of the original sentence. Temporary absences are sometimes available from the provincial director. 

We have a system in Canada called Restorative Justice. This is available to first-time young offenders who aren’t charged with violence. The process takes the form of a conference with the offender and his or her supporters and the victim and his or her supporters. A police officer trained and experienced in working with young people conducts the meeting. The young offender admits responsibility and then the participants review what the young offender did and why he or she did it. The offender explains why he or she did it and the victim explains how he or she suffered as a direct result of the harm committed by the young offender. Then as a group, they seek a consensus about how to repair the harm.

The outcome of the meeting is that the young offender apologizes and may be instructed to pay restitution if property was stolen or damaged and may also be instructed to do some community service. For many offenders, this program is a success because it reduces the possibility of a reoccurrence. Many in the field of crime prevention believe that this kind of treatment is more effective than subjecting the young offender to a trial and probation.

Despite society’s failings in the treatment of their young people in correctional facilities, there are ways we can improve the lot of these most unfortunate children. 

First, get rid of the privately operated young offender facilities or alternatively, have more state control over them. It seems that this is where most of the current abuses lie.

Second, each facility should have a committee of concerned citizens called “visitors” inspecting the facilities. A Young Offender Facility Visitor Program should be set up for each young offender facility so that well-meaning and respected persons, such as judges, criminologists, social workers, psychologists, retired nurses, retired correctional officials and perhaps even sports and entertainment personalities can visit these correctional facilities regularly and  talk  with  young  offenders  on  a  one-to-one  basis  who  wish  to express  their  concerns  about  their  wellbeing  to  the  Young  Offender  Facility ‘visitor’  who  is  interviewing  them.  This  would  be  especially  helpful  for those incarcerated  young  offenders  who  don’t  have  visits  from  family  members, relatives or friends of the family.

Hong  Kong  has  such  a program.  It works  for them.  In certain  parts of India, they have a Prison Visiting System which acts as a potential tool for prison reforms.  It works for them also.  If these visitor programs can work in these countries, it should work elsewhere. 

Canada used to have grand juries inspecting prisons but that concept ended years ago. Now imprisoned citizens can write their provincial ombudsman if they have a complaint. That works for adults but it is highly unlikely that young children will avail themselves of that opportunity to express their grievances. This is why I believe that a Prison Visiting Program is a more appropriate way of resolving the problem of child abuse in young offender facilities.

The question that comes to the fore is; who is responsible for these crimes against these young offenders?

The answer, to some degree can be found, ironically enough, from the words of one of the most horrible human beings that ever inhabited this world. His statement however that he made at his trial is so applicable in situations like what took place in the institutions I have just written about. His name was Rudolf Hoess, the SS commandant at the Auschwitz concentration camp.. He said in part:

“This so-called ill treatment and torture in detention centres, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people and later by the prisoners who were freed, were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies and others who laid violent hands on the detainees.”  unquote

Hosse wasn’t hanged because of the individual violence committed on the prisoners by his underlings but because he supervised the extermination of his prisoners. But his reference to his guards and others committing brutal assaults on his prisoners is so apt when considering what has been done to the young offenders in the institutions that I have written about. The senior staff in those institutions were indifferent to the plight of the young offenders just as Hosse was indifferent to the plight of his prisoners. 

As an aside; in the Province of Ontario, the Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety has a department in its Corrections aspect of the ministry that inspects the jails, detention centres and correctional institutions to make sure that they are operated properly. They also investigate inmate complaints. My oldest daughter is one of the compliance officers and inspectors in that Department.

Hopefully, as the years move on, in the United States and Canada where young offenders are incarcerated, they will never be physically and mentally abused again while in the care of correctional facilities.

Sometime in the future, I will submit articles about abuses of young offenders in other countries. 

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