Globe and Mail

Young offenders to face closer supervision

Ottawa plans mandatory probation period

Saturday, March 6, 1999
Parliamentary Bureau
The Globe and Mail

Ottawa -- Every young offender in Canada who serves time in jail will receive a mandatory period of probation under new federal legislation to be introduced by Justice Minister Anne McLellan on Thursday.

The new legislation will revamp the country's youth-justice system, cracking down with adult sentences for the most violent repeat offenders while creating more community-based options for those convicted of minor crimes.

Mandatory community supervision represents a significant shift in the way the system has handled young criminals. The system currently has no parole requirements, and offenders can walk free without any restrictions once they serve their jail time.

Under the new law, young offenders would be required to complete an additional period of supervision in the community equal to half their jail sentence.

The philosophy behind this change is to help young offenders reintegrate into society, with the hope that they would then be less likely to reoffend. Sources say the system would focus on a more intensive form of supervision based on individual needs, including counselling and more regular visits with a probation officer.

In February's federal budget, Ottawa announced $206-million over the next three years for new youth-justice initiatives -- a chunk of that will be spent on the cost of increased community supervision, as well as developing more community-based alternatives to custody. The provinces, who will administer the system, have insisted that the federal government bolster its plans with new funding.

The principle of the new legislation is to better match sentences with the nature of the offence. The aim is to stem criticism that the courts are too soft on violent young offenders and somewhat inflexible when dealing with more minor crimes.

Under the new strategy, which was announced last spring, young criminals who commit the most violent offences would be more likely to face adult sentences, possibly leading to life imprisonment.

In the current system, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault are subject to adult sentences, unless they can convince a judge that they should be tried in youth court. Under the new plan, the use of adult sentences would be expanded to include violent repeat offenders, and criminals as young as 14 convicted of the most serious crimes.

It would still be up to the young offender in each case to prove why he or she should not receive an adult sentence. But the new legislation contains one key element designed to push cases through the courts more quickly: The decision to give an adult sentence would be made by a youth-court judge after the offender has been found guilty and the facts of the crime are known -- not heading into the trial, which is current process.

In addition, the new legislation sets up a special sentence for violent, high-risk offenders with psychological problems, giving them access to more intensive rehabilitation in custody.

In treating the most violent young criminals more like adults, the new legislation will also lift the protection on their identities and allow the publication of their names in the media.

Also, the parents of young offenders would be required to pay their legal expenses when they are capable of doing so -- a cost now covered by the provinces.

For young offenders charged with non-violent offences, the new system would provide for more alternatives to jail, such as community service or making restitution to their victims.

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