While Greenberg, Grekul, and Nelson report on the social causes that lead Aboriginal youth to become involved in crime, Stoneman and Artz seek to demonstrate how young female offenders are treated more harshly than their male counterparts once a part of the youth justice system due to “moral panic” (pg. 173). The common, unsubstantiated fear remains that girls are committing more crimes and acts of violence (193). Statistics Canada (2012) reports that in reality, female youth account for just 3 percent of all criminal court cases (pg. 174).
Social research offers many explanations for the role of girls in adolescent crime and public perceptions of their illegal activities. As was noted above, there is a strong relationship between victimization and criminalization. The 2012 McCreary Centre Society survey of incarcerated youth revealed that virtually all incarcerated girls had suffered physical abuse compared to 57 percent of incarcerated boys (pg. 173).
More than half of the girls had experienced violence by an intimate partner compared to 0 percent of males, while 75 percent had reported being sexually abused compared to 32 percent of boys. Incarcerated girls were also more likely to have reported having a mental health condition (e. g. , depression) or an emotional condition and were more likely to suffer from multiple conditions than boys. Also, while 18 per cent of both girls and boys reported having engaged in self-harm, girls were four times more likely to report having harmed themselves six or more times. Additionally, the study showed that twice the proportion of girls (50 per cent) than boys (25 per cent) reported having been kicked out of their homes. ” (pg. 173)
While I cannot confirm that any of the girls, except one, who came before the court had necessarily been abused by their families, there was a small bunch (approximately 15%) that had been removed from their family homes by child services and are now wards of the province. What I observed and can comment on more directly, is the harsh treatment of female offenders compared to their male counterparts. I witnessed one instance in which a young female offender’s case was handled more harshly than a similar case regarding a young male.
During my first observation, the judge interrupted the prosecuting attorney’s list of suggested parole conditions for a 14-year-old girl who had breached her parole to remark “Look how beautiful this child is! Don’t you see she’s vulnerable? Her curfew should not be that late [10 pm], and I’ll remind you that you would be justified in preventing contact with [friend 1] and [friend 2], as well as [the child’s aunt]. ” In this case, the girl had been abused by her aunt in the past, and the judge later commented that she wanted to reduce the opportunity for the recurrence of this abuse by limiting contact with the relative.
By the end of it, four new conditions were added to the girl’s pre-existing parole which entailed five previous conditions. Being charged with numerous administrative offenses was common among the girls I observed, but the fact that a girl’s beauty and history of victimization were used as justifications for greater parole conditions seemed incredibly unfair and more certain to create legal trouble for her in the future, which the prosecution also remarked on when attempting to oppose the judge.
I found this particularly notable after the same judge, towards the end of that session, did not feel the need to remark on a boy of similar age (15) whose parole conditions were significantly fewer in number and severity. The young man’s parole conditions merely included a 10 pm curfew that could be extended to 11 pm if he found a job and the forbiddance of coming within 20 feet of a 7-11 located in southwest Calgary.
Finally, on other occasions, judges questioned female offenders more extensively regarding their schooling, leisure activities, substance abuse, and past victimization while male offenders were asked more frequently about their potential employment, their peer group, and drug and alcohol abuse. While these are just a couple of examples, they highlight the victim/offender duality of girls as well as the complex and varied needs they may have, including treatment for physical and sexual abuse, rehabilitation from substance addiction, treatment for mental health conditions, to name a few.
The fact that most of these young female offenders were not granted access to such resources emphasises the shortcomings of the youth justice system and its resources, particularly as they apply to girls. As is noted from Sprott and Doob (2010), “although we may have made considerable advancement from the rehabilitative, treatment-focused paternalism of the early 20th century as it concerns boys involved in the justice system, progress for girls has lagged somewhat” (pg. 188). Research reflects that the intersectionality of race or gender and crime is not largely accounted for regarding (un)available resources.
Despite the support and extensive use of risk-assessment tools in Canada, “some experts regard them with concern, raising questions ranging from their (non)applicability to female and non-white populations (Morettiet al. 2011; Hannah-Moffat and Maurutto 2003) to their tendency to focus too heavily on individual risk factors rather than on systematic structural inequalities (Barron 2011). ” (pg. 190) By taking an intersectional approach, and analyzing multiple facets of identity, we can address the intertwined social impacts of the systematic inequalities and utilize this information to better address the issues plaguing young offenders.
For instance, the McCreary Centre Society Survey (2012) tells us that twice the number of young female offenders (50%) reported having been kicked out of their homes compared to boys (25 percent). In addition to what we already know about female offender victimization, this information about girlhood means that Aboriginal girls are particularly vulnerable to slipping through the cracks. This is especially true when combined with the geographic location of youth courts and youth homes (which may result in placing Aboriginal girls “thousands of miles from their home and culture” (pg. 189)).
As a consequence of net narrowing (pg. 79), young female offenders are at additional risk of entering street life and becoming homeless, seeking support in the form of gang membership, being abused, and are, ultimately, more likely to find themselves entrenched in the justice system. I witnessed an example of intersectional inequalities for Aboriginal girls when a young woman, age 12, was brought before a judge because she had stolen money from an individual in her group home. She used it to travel back to her family home near Wetaskiwin, nearly 250 kilometers away, where she was taken by child and family services the previous year.
In another case, an Aboriginal girl was charged with multiple counts of breaking and entering, possessing a stolen vehicle, theft over $5,000, resisting arrest, and mischief for damages worth over $5,000 to the vehicle. When questioned by the judge the girl admitted that this was part of a gang activity she was privy to. One of the intentions of implementing the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) was to reduce custody charges and reserve them for more serious offenses and offenders (pg. 87) and, also, to limit the patriarchal, probing extent of the law on the life of the young offender.
However, there are obvious pitfalls in the youth justice system that explain juvenile crime. Sprott and Doob (2009) suggest that detention, although no longer meant to be used for welfare purposes, is used when other resources are unavailable, particularly when girls fail community programs, resulting in them being “fast-tracked into custody” (pg. 179). Building on this, Artz and Amorim (2013) suggest that the frequent referrals of females to programs, and their high rates of administrative offenses (compared to male offenders) in turn, demonstrate “a dearth of services” (pg. 79).
Additionally, Kufeldt and Burrows (1994) show that accommodation and protection services are limited from youth attempting to transition from street life to being off the streets (pg. 369). This was demonstrated quite clearly in the cases of two young girls (aged 12 and 14) who were wards of the state and were warned that if they were “kicked out” of their group homes that there would, practically, be no other options for them.
What this (and other) research indicates is that Aboriginals and girls, and Aboriginal girls in particular, are distinctly vulnerable to falling through the cracks of the youth justice system, with increased risk of net narrowing, recidivism, and becoming entrenched in the system. I believe my observations, in combination with data from reputable, peer-reviewed sources presented in our text, demonstrates that the events of Calgary’s youth court reflect a reality parallel to the reality of Canada as a nation, albeit slightly diluted.
In addition to an overrepresentation of Aboriginal youth, female youth were regarded as particularly vulnerable and subjected to greater parole conditions which subsequently caused them to face a higher number of probation breaches than their male counterparts; finally, Aboriginal girls are distinctly vulnerable to gang involvement and recidivism and facing multiple counts of administrative offenses.
We know that the various facets of the individual relate back to larger social constructs that affect the individual, especially when these facets intersect and overlap. By altering our youth criminal justice system to account for, or at least acknowledge, these social phenomena (i. e. social inequalities) by including an intersectional framework, we can potentially reduce youth crime and the misconceptions surrounding it.