Second chances for young offenders
The Didsbury and area Youth Justice Committee (YJC) is back from vacation and ready to get back to work.
Kim Milljour, a member of the committee, said the YJC is a group of community volunteers who are sanctioned under Section 18 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It operates under the direction of the solicitor general.
“We believe strongly that not every act deserves the same punishment.”
She explained that the YJC works in conjunction with Didsbury’s RCMP, crown prosecutors and probation officers.
These sources refer the cases they feel best suited for the Alternative Measures program. However, added Milljour, it is still the decision of the committee if the youth will be a candidate or not.
She stressed that admittance to the program “is a privilege and not a right.”
Some crimes the committee have dealt with over the years, she said, include shoplifting, vandalism, possession of narcotics, and other non-violent crimes. She added that when some kids, usually ranging from 12 to 17 years old, are brought to the committee, they are given an option between a criminal record or community service.
The youths must meet certain conditions, including taking full responsibility for their actions and be prepared to right their wrong, in whatever way sanctioned by the YJC.
“There are those individuals who just make a bad decision,” said Milljour. “Are they the ones that deserve a juvenile record? The committee doesn't think so. However, they still need to be reprimanded for their actions.”
She noted that, through the YJC, young offenders and their parents work together with the committee throughout the program.
“The results of the program,” she said, “have been very positive for the most part. We have given sanctions that include community service, making restitution, writing apology letters, and during the colder months, we have the youths make a backpack out of their own money.”
The purpose of these backpacks, she notes, is to donate to kids living on the streets of Calgary.
“This has been rewarding,” she said, “as the youths get to see how it feels to help someone their own age that has a whole lot less than they do.
"The Alternative Measures Program boasts a 90 per cent success rate province-wide.
“We've had youths who have started to made amends before coming to the committee meeting, which says volumes for their character. Those are the kinds of kids we like to see go through the youth justice system.”
Cpl. Wright, of the Didsbury RCMP said that the program is incredibly valuable for the community.
“I think that when it comes to first-time offenders,” said Wright, “it’s very valuable for the offenders to understand the effect that they have on the community and to be involved in the program to contribute back to the community.”
He noted that it is quite a reasonable option for first-time offenders.
“It gives them a chance to realize that they’ve done something wrong,” he said, “to try to make amends through community service.”
Milljour said that as they move into the new business year, the committee hopes to get out into the community to see if local businesses are open to letting offenders put in their service hours at their facilities.
“We really don’t have very many places to put the youths within the community,” said Milljour.
“It would be nice for the community to become more involved,” she said. “We have great industrial resources and business owners that I think would make great mentors for the kids.
“As a volunteer, I feel it is very rewarding when I see someone I have dealt with through the YJC making better decisions for themselves and moving forward with a productive lifestyle." said Milljour
She said that if any businesses are interested in stepping forward to be a resource for the YJC, they can leave a message for the committee with the Didsbury RCMP at (403) 335-3382, and a member will return their call.