Good morning, everyone. Thank you for allowing me to be here. I feel honoured. I'm really hoping that today we can have an impact towards some change. I'm counting on it.
I represent an agency that works on the street with youth, aged zero to 29—and I say zero because they often have babies, so they are invited in as well.
I wrote a brief that I've distributed. I'm just going to condense it, because I know we have a timeline, but I'd like to take you through a trajectory of a child's life that I've seen over my 30 years working in the field.
It begins with a family breakdown. Marginalization begins at home. Many youth experience abuse and neglect at the hands of their immediate support system.
Poverty in the home leads to economic marginalization, a cycle that is not easily broken. Traumatic events in the home, perpetrated through addiction, abuse, and neglect, or any variety of unforeseen tragic circumstances such as death of a parent, can lead to feelings of alienation and marginalization. Without proper intervention, these young people are left without the necessary supports or skills to properly deal with their issues. At this point child welfare can enter into their lives or not.
School system breakdown is the next obstacle they face. In most mainstream schools, personal social circumstances are not a priority, meeting the curriculum obligation is. Onset of mental health concerns are common during adolescence, but they are rarely captured, or the behaviour is misinterpreted. Often learning disabilities go unnoticed, only to fail the needs of a child. Different learning styles of young people are respected, depending only on the teacher's value base. Without specific needs being met, failure for students can happen on a number of different levels, including social, academic, or athletic. As a result, behaviour and thinking that is not a part of the dominant culture within our schools begins. Typically this results in expulsion or dropping out.
A professor of education at the University of Winnipeg was quoted as saying that society tends to see dropouts as quitting on themselves without looking past at the system that conspires to keep people down.
Enter the streets. A young person arrives on the streets ill-equipped and disconnected, either angry or afraid. Without resources, money, or life skills, the streets become the next option when home and school have broken down. Many youth have reported to me that the street is safer than their home.
Soon, crime becomes the next part of their behaviour. The need to belong, to be protected, and to be cared for is a natural human inclination among street youth. This need is amplified a hundredfold.
Unfortunately, positive role models and healthy relationships on the street are not readily available. Youth, as a result of their history, become apathetic, angry, and they soon begin to act out their emotions and rebel against the society that hasn't helped them. They have distrust toward systems that have hurt them, and they loathe them as a result.
The lack of supervision, guidance, and healthy connections become a breeding ground for crime. As a result, we become a society with exacerbated social problems. Our burgeoning and floundering systems reflect that.
Most crime is born out of youth mischief and lack of adult supervision, or it is simply for survival purposes. Early criminal activity involves road violations, petty theft, break and enter, trespassing, assault, joyriding, mischief, possession, underage drinking, public nuisance, noise violations, panhandling, disturbing the peace, fraud and/or aiding and abetting, and destruction of property. Without proper intervention, these petty criminal activities will likely progress, with or without gang involvement.
Street youth are viewed by the police and the majority of society as delinquent troublemakers who have to be dealt with harshly or, conversely, completely ignored. Reports of police brutality are commonplace at my agency. The potential to access the very representatives of public safety is diminished completely. Frustration and anger among the youth escalate. Their hope is diminished, apathy grows, and the youth then progress to the next steps: possession with the intent to sell, aggravated assault with a weapon, possession of a firearm, dislodging a firearm, armed robbery, home invasions, domestic violence, car theft, destruction of property, living off the avails, manslaughter, production of a dangerous substance, and murder.
Marginalized youth, regardless of the resources of their family of origin, are disconnected by the very systems that are intended to help them. Without intervention, criminal behaviour persists. The youth realize the immediate benefit to a life of crime: most often, it's money. They understand that money equals power, options. The criminal youth who have become prolific will become more sophisticated, more organized, and they will have a firsthand understanding that there are many youth who want the same thing: power and options. Recruitment begins.
Addiction, as well, can beget crime. The overwhelming physical desire can result in a desperate criminal act in an effort to sustain their individual high. The high becomes an escape from their reality--a reality they do not want to confront or deal with.
Enter jail. The Winnipeg Remand Centre was designed to hold 289 pre-trial inmates. Currently, 416 inmates are being held. Based on my observations and experience in the field, I've concluded that those who populate our detention facilities are the very ones who have fallen through every crack, in every system.
The systems—welfare, school, youth corrections, housing—are in fact partially responsible for creating the criminals and the criminal mentality we see today.
At RaY, we have come to know many such youth and young adults who have been in conflict with the law. To them, jail is not a deterrent. The youth report that incarceration most definitely cramps their social scene, but more often they report that they appreciate the fact that they have three square meals a day and a guaranteed place to sleep. So in fact jail is a step up from their previous existence. The other inmates tend not to pose a problem or a threat since for many, they are in the company of family. For those first-time offenders, jail becomes a meeting place whereby negative associations are born, fostered, and developed. Jail offers an environment where an inmate can eat, rest, work out, have conjugal visits, become stronger, and in many cases healthier. The penal system provides an opportunity where plans can be discussed, gangs can recruit, and generally crime can become more organized.
Those offenders who do learn their lesson and are committed to change often fail. Too often, after they are released the inmate is unable to access the supports they require to change their lives in a meaningful way. Despite the strong efforts and diligent release planning on behalf of the parole and correction officers, the resources outside of the prison are not always available. Whether it be an inability to access basic needs supports and services such as housing or community resources and employment opportunities, the parolee will meet with gaps and barriers to services and supports once he's left prison.
I don't want to make this all about problems; I think it's important that we look at solutions. If it were up to me to make a recommendation, I would love to just deconstruct all of the existing systems and rebuild them so they are more accessible and a lot less bureaucratic. We know we can't do that, not in this lifetime. I could list about 50 recommendations to impact crime, but I will narrow it down to my top 10. Having said that, I support all of the recommendations that came out of the recent Senate report.
If we are going to deal with crime, we need to address the root causes and issues that drive crime. We need to support families that have issues that complicate their parenting. Public schools need to work with communities; schools need to be equipped with a range of services and resources to address the complex needs of all students. Welfare rates must be increased. We need more safe, affordable housing stock. We need to expand and enhance mental health services in the community and within penal institutions. More resources need to be infused into the area of addiction services; more treatment beds are necessary to reduce wait times. Addictions and mental health services must be integrated and work together, creating individualized support plans. Community-based, street-level organizations need to have stable core funding to maintain strong services. Penal institutions need to develop a stronger mandatory rehabilitation program, including mental health assessments—and I mean functional assessments, where you learn about the functioning of the client, not the label—and evidence-based programming for those with FASD. We need extensive supportive programming with a focus on exiting incarceration and reintegration into society, requiring cross-sectoral planning. The above will require coordination and regular communication across justice, health, and family services departments. And I haven't even begun to mention the north.
That's it. Thank you for having me here.