Lecture 1 - The Social and Historical Context of Youth Crime.docx

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Woodsworth College Courses
William O' Grady

Lecture 1: The Social & Historical Context of Youth Crime  Youth vs. Adult Crime - Sanctions for young offenders today (12-17) are LESS PUNITIVE THAN FOR THOSE 18+. This difference is due to: 1) Mental capacity/cognitive abilities: young ppl aren‟t as capable to understand the consequences of their actions 2) Seen to be in a state of dependency compared to adults who are independent 3) Young are thought to be more likely to be rehabilitated than adults: more capable of being remoulded * However, description of what the crime is the same for adult and youth: same definition of murder, different sentence  Role of the Media - As a society, understand youth crime through mass media: often features youth crime as involving gangs, violent crimes as opposed to minor cases involving petty crimes b/c these serious crimes involve a lot of public attention (disproportionality)  This presentation of youth crime in the media is not based on empirical reality but on “constructed versions that serve political and moral purposes” (giving what the public wants!)  The media tends to distort and amplify crime-related news: discrepancy b/w crime in reality vs. media  e.g., while media focuses on crimes of violence, official data suggests that violent crime represents a relatively small proportion of all reported criminal activity - The media constructs crime as a “social problem”, through the problematization of a particular condition (O‟grady reading)  e.g., constructing school shootings as a serious social problem worthy of public attention: case of Jordan Manners (gr.9 student killed by two 17 year olds, charged with 1 degree murder)…but in a contradistinction to media-generated moral panic, data suggests that recent school shootings are not part of any recognizable trends, and better seen as a “phantom epidemic” brought on by the media‟s intense coverage of particular events and its affinity for statistical distortion  O‟Grady: given the absence of information about the offenders‟ identities (couldn‟t be released b/c of restrictions by YCJA), the killing of Manners was framed “targeted shooting” carried out within the broader context of an underclass social environment (having roots in “very nature of Toronto‟s black, urban, underclass”)  URBAN UNDERCLASS = high concentration of welfare dependent, visible minority, single-parent households residing in subsidized housing  Manner‟s death was not seen as tragic, but something that took place in an already violent neighbourhood (logical extension of the pre-existing socio-economic and cultural conditions that defined the broader neighbourhood) - Faulkner report: contrary to media‟s depiction of CWJC as a violent school, rates of victimization obtained from CWJC were not exceptional when compared to those obtained from other Toronto schools - The underclass view was adopted by mainstream media because it was in sync with „„common-sense‟‟ views about „„high crime‟‟ in inner-city neighbourhoods: fails to appreciate that individuals can react quite differently to apparently similar environments (i.e., living in the Jane and Finch) and that these reactions are never clear or predictable  Objectivist vs. Constructionist Views of Understanding Crime 1) OBJECTIVIST: crime is real  Criminal Code codified society‟s norms & values into laws: what‟s in contained in CCC and its usage by the courts in one‟s punishment is a reflection of Canada‟s values/culture  Crime is easily measured: relies on UCR, police-based statistics (esp. for more serious crimes like murder)  Focus on causes of crime (e.g., biological, sociological, psychological): why ppl violate social norms & commit crimes?  Focus on rule-breakers: why youths commit crimes, why they join gangs, why they‟re involved in delinquent behaviour 2) CONSTRUCTIONIST (SUBJECTIVIST): don‟t take crime at “face-value”  Derived from labelling theory of Lemert, Becker: if you don‟t have a label, you don‟t have a criminal. If we had no laws, we would have no criminals. Looks at the act of “law-breaking” as a label as being applied to the offender  Looking at the law-makers as opposed to the law-breakers: in whose interests are laws made, questions whether all laws are truly reflective of all of society (society isn‟t always in agreement for how to punish people who break the law)  Crime is constructive: what is a crime before may not be now (e.g., under Opium Act, one could consume opium but now, it is seen as an deviant activity)  Looks at the cultural differences in crime  Looks at why some crimes become “social problems” while others don‟t: Joel Best (youth gangs becoming a social problem while crimes like corporate crime are not regulated? Perhaps b/c we‟re not fearful of corporate crime but afraid of victimization of gangs; exposure is a big factor in looking at how certain types of crimes are made a problem)  “Moral Panic” Perspective (Cohen)  Constructionist View - MORAL PANIC: exaggerated fears about social problems, including youth deviance, partly generated by the media - 1960s: Cohen observed British working class youth culture (mods & rockers) involved in drug/music cultures. The media EXCESSIVELY portrayed fights and violence among these groups of “FOLK DEVILS” (any group posing a threat to the traditional values & institutions of society); became a public concern  Moral panics are typically found within periods of rapid social change: Britain due to post-war affluence was enjoying emerging consumer culture, buying illegal drugs and soon became irresponsible, lazy and deviant - Amplification of reality by “claim-makers”: once a story is reported on the media, experts are called to comment on the event and the deviance becomes amplified b/c the media goes out to search for news on these deviant groups  Makes the story bigger than what it really is  Actual statistical composition of the crime & how they‟re portrayed in the media are NOT in sync with each other - Media can frame events in drastically different and amplified ways: nasty girl phenomenon (media portrayed girls as becoming more violent…however, statistically, female violent crime rate did not increase)  Juvenile Delinquents Act (1908) - Although the adult criminal legislation in Canada hasn‟t changed to a great degree in Canada, legislation governing the criminal activities of youths underwent major transformations that began with the creation of JDA - Prior to JDA, no category of “young offenders”, only children vs. adults; separate category for young offenders (JDA) was due to: 1) Economic Changes: prior to confederation, most of Canadian population was rural, society was peasant-like, what ppl produced on their farms was what they consumed. Families were big because kids were required to help out with agricultural work/labour. With the birth of capitalization and industrialization, farms were mechanized and demand for labour shifted (from farms  factories) and the kids‟ labour was no longer required and they were largely let off. They were poor, uneducated, not going to school, were on the streets doing nothing -- PROBLEMATIC 2) Social Changes: “child-saving movement” (conservative, middle-class reformers holding Victorian values of chastity, obedience, having good work habits, delayed gratification) wanted to get these kids out of the gutter  Place them in school (mandatory education, making kids stay in school for longer time) = invention of adolescents  Social-welfare model: kids are on the streets of no fault of their own; often orphans, don‟t know any better and the most obvious way to make money was to steal from others – to SURVIVE  Wanted to SAVE THEM, take kids from bad environments; place them into better ones for their own good  Also, wanted to control moral behaviour of lower-class families and immigrants b/c they posed a threat to the moral values as well as to the economic interests of the more „respectable‟ middle class  J.J. Kelso & W.L. Scott: key lobbyists for the enactment of JDA of 1908 (witnessed first-hand the miserable conditions experienced by poor and neglected street children, lobbied to conduct trials of juvenile offenders under 16 to be tried apart from other offenders along with the president of Ottawa Children‟s Aid Society)  Belief that these kids were delinquent and if they are placed in better environments, they can be rehabilitated - JDA presented a FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT in way juvenile justice was administered in Canada: 1) Making supervision of juvenile offenders in the community by way of probation 2) Casting a wide net in defining the type of delinquent children who would come under the legislation (e.g., “any child who violates any provision of the CCC…”): led to creation of STATUS OFFENCES (offences considered delinquent/criminal only b/c the person who engages in the behavior isn‟t an adult (e.g., skipping school) 3) Doctrine of parens patriae gave juvenile court judges discretion to sentence children to INDETERMINATE SENTENCES of incarceration: sentences that have no fixed expiration date, can be held in custody until they don‟t pose a threat to society - JDA exerted jurisdiction over children ranging from 7-15 years of age (with variations b/w provinces) - The child-welfare orientation of the JDA was reflected in the informal nature of proceedings in juvenile courts, where judges gave wise advice to „misguided children‟ and lawyers were discouraged from appearing in order to ensure unnecessary technicalities would not interfere with/delay the treatment considered to be in the child‟s best interests * Importance of language: JDA used the term “delinquent”/ “misguided children”, not “criminal” b/c this Act employed a social welfare philosophy. It didn‟t want to label kids as being criminals, believed that they could be rehabilitated - JDA was criticized & resulted in a new legislation, (YOA) in 1984 (replaced with YCJA in 2003)  YOA brought due process rights & safeguards for young offenders (e.g., guaranteed right to obtain and instruct legal counsel) which wasn‟t in place for JDA  Shift from child-welfare based approached towards a more justice and crime-control model based on child- blaming, in which priority was given to holding young offenders accountable for their criminal behaviour  JDA  Young Offenders Act (1984) - Rising concerns/political anxiety (combination of 1+2) in 1970s-1980s, called for new youth criminal justice act in Canada: 1) Political Pressure: lobbyists raised attention to important issues A) Claims-making: youth justice was made into a new social problem in the 1970s by groups linked to “rights” who pushed for a new legisl
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