Province eyes ways to help ‘crossover youth’
Manitoba monitoring Ontario pilot project's progress in effort to keep young reoffenders out of jail
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This article was published 15/01/2018 (1893 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba Justice department says it will keep an eye on new bail policies in Ontario that aim to reduce the number of youth in the child-welfare system who repeatedly face criminal charges.
Recommendations for bail-condition changes that specifically consider the needs of “crossover youth” (teens who are involved in the foster-care system as well as the criminal-justice system) were adopted last fall and are set to be implemented later this month, along with staff training in courts across Ontario, said Justice Brian Scully, a Toronto-based judge in the Ontario Court of Justice and co-chairman of Ryerson University’s Crossover Youth Project.
The federally funded pilot project recommended the changes to the Ontario justice department.
They’re meant to allow courts to take a different approach to onerous bail conditions that were often automatically imposed on teens, sometimes landing them back in jail for breaking curfew, running from their placements or drinking alcohol.
Conditions that meant youth were not allowed to communicate with or go near co-accused youth sometimes forced them out of their group home or excluded them from school or extracurricular activities while on bail.
“These are the issues that arose, so we just flagged them and it was really a signal to the system in terms of the bail order that’s on the computer, that justices of the peace and police think about these things before they just automatically make the order,” Scully said.
Ontario’s electronic youth bail forms are set to include exceptions to commonly imposed court conditions to ensure judicial officials make informed decisions before teens are bound by those bail orders.
Instead of imposing a condition not to consume alcohol or drugs, for example, the recommended court order would instruct the youth to take counselling as directed by their guardian or Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society.
Instead of imposing an overly broad no-contact order, the courts can make exceptions to keep teens in school and in their residential placements. The recommendations say curfew conditions should not be imposed for crossover youth.
“We can’t tell a justice of the peace what order they should make. All we can do is signal issues that they might want to think about. It’s really an education function,” Scully said.
Research out of Ontario estimates as many as 50 per cent of youth involved in the criminal-justice system are also in foster care. While an upcoming study aims to examine the issue in Manitoba, no clear statistics exist.
A Free Press freedom of information request found about 60 per cent of youth who were admitted to the Manitoba Youth Centre jail in Winnipeg between August 2016 and October 2017 were also in care of Child and Family Services (CFS).
Manitoba has announced overhauls to its CFS system, and the provincial Families Department and justice ministers have acknowledged change is needed.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Manitoba Justice said the province is examining Ontario’s changes for any new effects they may have on youth who interact with the criminal-justice system.
Bail conditions in the province already include provisions that allow youth to be released from jail to Child and Family Services or reside as directed by CFS “to facilitate their release into the community, instead of waiting for a placement in care,” the statement said. “Manitoba regularly reviews youth bail policies in other Canadian jurisdictions to learn best practices and applications.”
Scully has been a judge for 14 years and previously worked as a defence lawyer representing youth.
He is currently stationed out of a downtown Toronto courthouse, where he handles cases for the Crossover Youth Project in Ontario’s capital.
The pilot project, which began in 2015, also runs in the Ontario cities of Thunder Bay, Belleville and Brantford, and requires judges to consider a youth’s criminal charges alongside their child-welfare issues for teens who’ve decided to opt in to the program.
“I early on identified the very difficult lives they had because of the trauma they suffered when they were children, through no fault of their own. They were extremely vulnerable as a result of their trauma and tended to act out, sometimes with threatening behaviour both physically and verbally. And that got them into the criminal-justice system,” he said.
The Toronto portion of the pilot project is about to wrap up after two years, and Scully said he’s seen mixed success with the 50 crossover youth cases the project has handled there.
In some cases, he said, the change has been “life-altering” for teens who’ve been able to stay out of jail and not end up with breach charges for violating their court conditions.
“Others, we’re still struggling with trying to find financial security and stable housing for them, but for a number of those young people that are still in a very vulnerable state… we have been successful in them not being charged for six months, a year, in some cases a year and a half. Rather than a pattern of just constant attendance before bail court and disruption in their housing, we’ve been able to achieve some success on that basis,” Scully said.
Ontario Crossover Youth Project Bail Condition Recommendations
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.