Black Youth and the Criminal Justice System: Summary Report of an Engagement Process in Canada

Priority Areas for Action and Promising Programs, Services, and Approaches

This section outlines the priority areas for action and promising programs, services and approaches that were identified through the engagement process.

Addressing low-income concentration, survival-motivated crime, and community prevention

Findings from this engagement process demonstrated how the interconnectedness of poverty and anti-Black racism shapes the lives of Black youth and significantly impacts the likelihood that they end up in the CJS. Preventative action should be taken to address poverty directly and mitigate the impact of poverty on Black youth’s likelihood of offending. This action should pay particular attention to the needs of newcomers and Black youth facing mental health difficulties. The following are proposed ways to achieve this:

Addressing the needs of newcomers

There is considerable overlap in the experiences of newcomer and Canadian-born Black youth, and most of the recommendations in this report seek to address these shared needs. However, the engagement sessions highlighted that migration and settlement is particularly challenging for Black families and youth. This is especially true for those who have fled violence or otherwise politically unstable regions, and who may still be dealing with various forms of trauma. The following are proposed ways to address the needs specific to newcomers:

Addressing education, schooling, and the school-to-prison pipeline

Findings from this engagement process revealed that negative schooling experiences and outcomes are related to a higher likelihood of Black youth becoming involved with the CJS. These outcomes and experiences are grounded in anti-Black racism. Action should be taken to separate schools and the CJS. The following are proposed ways to achieve this:

Addressing over-policing, under-policing, and community safety

Findings from this engagement process illustrate that existing approaches to policing often create more harm than good for Black youth. The following are proposed ways to address this:

Addressing differential outcomes in the courts, ineffective legal representation, and legislation

Findings from this engagement process provide evidence that court proceedings and issues regarding legal representation lead to unfair legal outcomes for Black youth and their overrepresentation in the CJS. The following are proposed ways to address these issues:

Addressing anti-Black racism in custody and detention

Black youth, their families, and stakeholders highlighted the numerous ways that custodial institutions, staffed primarily by White people, are sites of extreme anti-Black racism where the absence of culturally-relevant services fails to rehabilitate Black youth, often leaving them worse off than when they entered the facilities. The following are proposed ways to address these issues:

Addressing failures in release, community reintegration, and recidivism

Across Canada, Black youth in the community on probation, parole, or release are set up to fail because of contradictory probation/release conditions and the absence of supports and services that address their needs. Moreover, many Black youth report experiencing anti-Black racism from service providers who are supposed to assist them. Consequently, many Black youth end up reoffending and going back into custody. The following are proposed ways to address these issues: