A National Survey of Youth Justice Committees in Canada
- 4.7 Manitoba
In Manitoba, justice committees began operating approximately 26 years ago. There are a total of 58 designated justice committees. Committees are designated under the respective name of the committee, rather than individual members, through Order-in-Council.
The provincial government supplied mailing addresses for designated YJCs. The research team then sent out a “short-form” questionnaire to each designated committee. A total of 28 were returned, and another responded to say that the group had disbanded. In-depth interviews were conducted with four YJCs who indicated they would be willing to do an interview.
Volunteer membership ranged from a low of four to a high of 15 among the 28 YJCs for which detailed information was available; the median volunteer membership was 10 persons. Just under half (13) of the committees had either one or no members with any professional experience in youth justice or related fields, and for most of the remainder, only a minority had such experience.
Local probation officials provide a key liaison and support role to all YJCs. None of the responding YJCs had a “host agency” to support their activities, though practical assistance was available through probation. Eight of the 28 responding YJCs have a Board of Directors or advisory committee who guide their activities. Most were composed of members of the justice system, and one of police and local Elders.
Only two of the 28 responding YJCs have a paid position (both full-time) to assist with the activities of the volunteer members. The province strongly believes that committees need to be comprised of volunteers rather than paid staff to maintain the strong community base of the committees.
All but six YJCs indicated that volunteers were not required to undergo some kind of training before assuming their duties, but training is provided as soon as practicable by Manitoba Justice and private agencies. The only common training taken is a three-hour “core” course in interviewing skills and a two and a half- to three-day training on “Facilitating Community Justice Forums” which is provided on request and presently delivered by an employee of Manitoba Justice. Some justice committee members have received training in conflict resolution at Mediation Services in Winnipeg. Mediation Services is hoping to provide further training to members particularly in working with victims and it is hoped that the course “Working with Victims” will eventually become a core training requirement. Eventually other courses will be offered including victim-offender mediation and communicating with non-responsive youth if funding from the province is forthcoming.
The amount of funds given to YJCs varies little, with the median annual funding among the 28 committees surveyed being $200. In addition, most YJCs receive in-kind assistance in the form of meeting space for both hearings and forums from probation services, a community group, or a school. Funding for $200 is automatic and is generally considered to be for postage and small administrative requirements, while the additional $800 must be requested in a proposal. The additional funding can be for resource materials, videos, professional development (e.g., courses at Mediation Services, organizing community-wide meetings, etc.). Manitoba Justice is presently developing criteria for this funding. As Manitoba Justice believes that justice committees should be volunteer-driven and not taken over by professionals, provisions for paid coordinators are not foreseen.
4.7.4 Individual Case Decisions
A little over half (16) of the 28 responding YJCs indicated that they receive referrals at both the pre-charge and the post-charge stages. Two said they only receive pre-charge referrals, and eight said they only receive post-charge referrals. Five indicated that they receive referrals at the sentencing stage. When asked who referred most cases to them, almost equal numbers indicated the police and the Crown. Four indicated that most referrals came from the youth court.
YJCs were asked to rate the seriousness (very/somewhat/not very/not at all serious) of the majority of cases they saw, in terms of how serious the offence was and how serious the youth's needs were. Out of 28 responding YJCs, 22 rated the majority of cases as “somewhat serious” and most of the remainder rated them “not very serious”.
For many of the responding YJCs, the number of cases referred annually was quite small - 20 out of 28 responding YJCs said they had received fewer than 20 referrals in the past year, and of these, 13 said they saw 10 or fewer cases per year. The remainder received more than 30 annually, including four who said they received more than 50 cases annually, and up to 100. Most of the YJCs indicated that all or a quorum of volunteer members tended to sit on cases, and the remainder heard cases in panels of two or three volunteers.
The most frequently seen offences by most YJCs were theft under $5000 (typically shoplifting) and mischief, with four YJCs also indicating that common assault was a frequent referral.
All YJCs indicated that they read the youth and parents a formal statement of their rights in the process before proceeding. Most YJCs ask the victim to indicate how the offence affected them, but seven do not, and three do so only occasionally, noting that they have police reports and/or victim impact statements available to them for that purpose. Nine YJCs indicated they do not invite the victim to attend, and nine indicated they do so only “sometimes”. In most cases, victims attend hearings “ never or almost never ” or only “ sometimes ”; only three YJCs indicated that victims attend “ all the time or almost all the time ”.
Most YJCs indicated that they play a number of additional roles in the system. Among the 28 YJCs contacted, some of these additional roles were more common. These included: mediating between or reconciling youthful offenders and victims; finding or providing placements for youth to perform community service; helping the youth find counselling, treatment or “someone to talk to” or assist youth to find other help in the community; educating the public about youth crime and justice; and following up on youth - tracking how they do under the measures agreed. Other roles were undertaken less frequently. These included: planning and delivering crime prevention programs; providing support and help to victims, other than in a purely informational role; facilitating family group conferencing; helping youth find employment; rallying support for new measures for youth generally; assisting youth with school problems (get back in school, find tutors, etc.); mentoring youth; providing advice to youth courts about the sentencing of young persons or to other parts of the youth justice system on ways of dealing with youth, including police and probation; teaching youth about their Aboriginal culture or traditions; and doing some analogous work with adult offenders or accused.
As justice committees have existed in Manitoba over the last 26 years, respondents seemed confident that sustainability is not a problem. However, there is a felt need for more support for the committees especially in light of the YCJA. The committees have been sustainable because of the high level of commitment brought to committees by the volunteers and their strong community base, where participation as a member of a justice committee is commonly viewed as prestigious.
- Many cited the lack of adequate funding, resources and infrastructure to support committees, especially in the area of training.
- Low Referrals
- Numbers of referrals vary and depend to some extent on the relationship that committees are able to establish with the police and the Crown attorneys and the extent to which these officials accept community justice approaches. Some committees with low numbers of referrals have trouble remaining interested.
- Aboriginal programs
- Some First Nations communities have very active justice committees which are not designated. Provincial representatives indicate the need for a formal partnership with these First Nations. A number of non-designated committees, under the umbrella of the northern Chiefs' organization called Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), operate in 10 northern communities. They are reluctant to be designated as they prefer to have an arm's length relationship with Manitoba Justice. In another departure from provincial policy, they have paid staff to coordinate the justice committees. MKO receives federal and provincial funding for their “First Nations Justice Strategy”. In addition to the justice committees, the MKO initiative includes an Aboriginal Magistrate's Court held in Cree. Community Justice Committees receive pre-charge and post-charge cases and measures can include healing circles, Elder counselling, traditional life skills programs, cultural re-integration activities, restitution and treatment. Community justice workers may also refer cases to options outside the committees. As circuit courts sometimes do not travel regularly to communities, justice committees represent an important local mechanism for communities to deal with delinquency and crime. Representatives of these groups are invited to justice committee events such as the training on the YCJA which was held at the end of March, 2003.
- Victim involvement
- Many expressed a strong need to become more restorative with victim-centred approaches rather than the traditional offender-based model. Many representatives are eager to involve victims, but lack the training to know how to do it. Some committees have members who are happy to work more closely with victims, but these committees are the minority.
- More serious cases
- It is feared that more resources and support will be needed to implement the YCJA. It is not yet known the extent to which resources will be required as it is reported that police have not yet implemented their discretionary powers in relation to warnings and cautions. This may lead to some minor cases being dealt with at the police level while more serious cases may be referred to justice committees. Members are worried that they do not have training, nor is training available to deal with more serious cases.
- Provincial support
- There is some perception that Manitoba Justice does not adequately value the work of justice committees, in keeping cases out of the court system and in finding more appropriate measures for youth. This perception is reinforced by the small amount of funding that is made available to the committees and the lack of funds for training.
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