Punishment and deterrence are often believed to be the most effective means of reducing youth crime and improving community safety, but Western psychologist Alan Leschied says the reality is much different.
“What we’ve seen is low-risk offenders who are incarcerated with more serious offenders will often come out of the justice system looking more like the high risk offenders,” said Leschied, a researcher in Western’s Faculty of Education. “Incarceration acts like an introduction to serious offenders for young people who would otherwise have never been exposed to that level of crime.”
Leschied’s research shows that many youth offenders have often experienced past trauma, violence or neglect. He suggests a more comprehensive approach to youth rehabilitation that addresses all aspects of the offence, including events leading up to it, to be a more effective rehabilitation approach that can help prevent youth from entering the justice system again in the future.
“We need to hold youth accountable for their actions, but we shouldn’t stop there, we should start there,” Leschied said. “It is imperative to examine and address the reasons behind these offences as part of the rehabilitation process. Addressing the root causes can lead to more effective and successful rehabilitation, which will consequently help lead to increased community safety.”
These findings are published in the book, Serious and Violent Young Offenders and Youth Criminal Justice: A Canadian Perspective, which was released today. Co-edited by Leschied, the assembled research shows what are commonly seen as quick fixes – incarceration, sanctions and deterrence – do not lead to better rehabilitation or community safety, and in some cases may actually make communities less safe over the long term.
The collection provides a research basis for effective youth justice assessment, prevention and treatment, and brings together work from the most prominent Canadian researchers in the field of youth justice.
Leschied hopes governments and policy makers across Canada will use the research to reexamine youth rehabilitation and develop more effective, better informed social policy and rehabilitation approaches.