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New RCMP tool seeks to help young offenders

As much as we’d like to think the youth in our town rarely get into trouble with the law, this is simply not the case. Youth from all over BC and other parts of Canada have run-ins with police, and are often simply scolded and then exonerated, creating not only a pattern of recidivism but the opportunity to re-offend. These offences often escalate over time, leaving police officers with few options for dealing with the problem because of the age of the guilty party.

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by Ali Siemens (Staff Writer) – Email

As much as we’d like to think the youth in our town rarely get into trouble with the law, this is simply not the case. Youth from all over BC and other parts of Canada have run-ins with police, and are often simply scolded and then exonerated, creating not only a pattern of recidivism but the opportunity to re-offend. These offences often escalate over time, leaving police officers with few options for dealing with the problem because of the age of the guilty party.

With this in mind, a new referral tool to help police deal with young offenders has recently been created by the BC Centre for Safe Schools & Communities at the University of the Fraser Valley, in partnership with the RCMP. The project – called the Extra Judicial Measures Database for Vulnerable Youth in BC – gives police officers the option to redirect youth, discouraging and perhaps putting an end to their criminal behaviour.

The database contains information that is relevant to young offenders, offering specialized mental health and drug addiction services, for instance. Annette Vogt, BC Centres Project Coordinator, pointed out that “mental health and substance abuse can be linked to offending youth; [those involved in the project] are hoping to prevent re-offence.” She added, “In the database there is information about provincial, regional, and local mental health and substance-abuse programs.” The databases are available to the police on their laptop terminals, so they can access the information as soon as they encounter offending youth.

The project is currently in phase three: the planning and development of the database is finished and police are now utilizing the tool. The BC Centre for Safe Schools & Communities is working with the APD as a pilot project. Police will provide feedback on the database in March 2011, giving them three months to take it for a test drive.

Irwin Cohen – BC Centres Research Director – noted: “the police response thus far has been very supportive” This is likely because the database will not only support youth, but police officers as well.

“The program is designed to give police the resources,” said Cohen. “Before, they could give the youth a warning or take them home; now when their hands are tied and they have to charge them, it gives them an option to be a part of other services.”

An RCMP officer who wishes to remain anonymous thinks that the database will be a great tool for the future of our youth. “They are [either] going to be our future criminals, or we can try and save them from that way of life by utilizing the programs available.” The officer also commented on the problems posed by over-incarceration: “If a youth is always being sent to jail and they have a criminal record before they are 19, they won’t ever be able to start their own life.”

After the test phase is over, any kinks will be worked out, and the database will be used on a larger scale. The goal of the program is to have fewer youth incarcerated and increased rehabilitation.

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