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Juvenile Delinquency


European Parliament



Factors contributing to delinquency need to be addressed in order to contain crime


Thank you.

Uh, by way of background.

First of all, thank you, uh, for hearing us speak.

I presently, for the last two years, work for a Greek NGO called "Smile of the child".

And our main aim of course is to deal with victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.

But as problems, uh, as we solve problems in Greece involving poverty, marginalisation, social exclusion and racism, uh, we expanded.

Uh, and through the expansion of our services and programs we ended up dealing often with children, uh, that were at the early stages of delinquency. 

Uh, by way of background, I'm a prosecutor from Canada.

I'm on leave from the Attorney General of Ontario.

And when... while in Canada I was working primarily in the field of domestic violence and child abuse.

So, that's my background.

Uh, we start with a Cana... I start with a Canadian model.

In Canada we've had changes in the last 25 years.

Uh, we had the Juvenile Delinquency Act.

The model in 1986, uh, emphasized, uh, rehabilitation of young offenders, recognising the difference of course in the maturity, uh, of someone younger.

One of the problems we faced was, as Ms. Bezelli quite rightly pointed out, that we had an increase in violence amongst youth.

And specifically in the category 15 to 17 years old.

And in 1995 our Juvenile Delinquency Act, uh, renamed the Young Offenders Act, was changed and by way of example, uh, we changed the way we view serious crimes.

Uh, and I start there because of something, uh, that Ms. Bezelli said.

I would also point out that in Canada we have a very different approach than the US.

First of all, we don't have the death penalty, uh, and as everyone probably knowns, uh, the US is one of the few countries that hasn't signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for the very reason that they do sentence young people to death, uh, for crimes of murder.

Uh, we don't have the death penalty in Canada.

What we did do is for people between 15 and 17 years old, uh, who are charged with serious crimes, and by that we mean murder, first or second degree manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault, and by aggravated we mean where there are serious injuries to the victim, they are automatically transferred to adult court.

Uh, and they have to make an application, uh, as to why they should be treated in a Young offenders Court.

We do have, and I guess I'm working backwards, but there's a lot of information a very short period of time.

Uh, we do have a young offenders system.

We have a young offender court.

We have judges that are designated for young offenders.

And, uh, we have prosecutors that are designated for young offenders.

And the system is based on, uh, starting with the least restriction on a young person.

The principles of the system are recognising the rights of the young offender as well as the need to protect society from criminal activity.

Uh, but we start with the least restrictive approach.

And we recognise that in the past many young people, uh, ended up in the criminal justice system, uh, through offences that were fairly minor.

And what often happened is, while in the young offenders system, they would other... often meet other young offenders, uh, often worse than they are, and instead of being rehabilitated they were often being schooled.

And so what we tried to do, uh, in 1995 is we created a system, uh, were we had first of all a program called "Alternative Measures".

In that program for non violent crimes, usually, uh, first offenders, uh, young offenders are brought to court.

Uh, they accept responsibility.

Either they read a letter of apology or they'll do some community service, and the charges are withdrawn.

Part of the holistic approach that we're trying to take in the multidisciplinary approach is they're also assigned a youth court worker.

And the youth court worker reports to the judge, to the prosecutor, but also deals with underlying issues.

So if there's a need for a social worker, for example, to see what's happening in the family, the youth court worker will assist there as well.

There's a problem with the school, they'll assist there.

Uh, after that we have probation.

Uh, which has a young offender record, which creates one.

Uh, but again, non custodial.

We then go to open custody, uh, where the young person goes to regular school, but is taken out of the family environment because it's deemed inappropriate and is put in an institutional environment.

And then we have, uh, the worst offenders, the most serious offenders, uh, closed custody.

Uh, that describes the alternative measures approach.

It has to be an application by the, the prosecutor, the, uh, a member of the Attorney General's office or the young person themselves.

And the young person is monitored.

Those are the amendments I spoke about.

Uh, now one of the things, uh, we want to deal with, and I saw this much more when I went to the NGO, uh, is how do we prevent crime.

And what we do know is that many of the crimes, we're not talking about the most serious and... but I'm talking about the less serious crimes.

Uh, we see a lot of property crimes.

That start… some violence, but not very much.

We know a lot of those kids are victims.

And maybe, they may be victims of crimes themselves.

They may be victims of racism and marginalisation and social exclusion.

And we see that, Greece is a good example.

And we're trying, and I think we're effectively dealing with it, because Greece in the last few years has become a coun... a country of emigration rather than just immigration.

So there's a lot... of different cultures, uh, that are coming to a traditionally homogeneous society.

Uh, there's also an issue of poverty.

Uh, and what we've seen, uh, and I'll use an example.

There's a case in Greece where we had young people, and Mrs. Badelli spoke of, uh, 13 year olds.

Well, you have people that don't even fall within criminal legislation.

You have kids that are ten and eleven years old.

So they're not even technically young offenders yet.

And yet they're committing often serious crime.

And when we look at their background and what caused it, what we see is poverty is the first thing, social exclusion, other children won't play with them and so they form what we all know to be gangs.

They get together because they're socially excluded from other places or from other people.

We see the breakdown of the family.

And my experience, I can't stress enough how important the family is, and supporting the family is.

Uh, whether that be one parent or two parent, but having a family unit.

So the children have a sense of belonging somewhere.

Uh, we also see the lack <UNCLEAR> lack of positive role models.

And here I'm gonna use by example, because I was fairly young, I was 24 years old.

I was doing defense work in Canada.

And I had the occasion to have three black young offenders.

And they were what would be considered a gang, uh, they had robbed somebody.

And we spoke on and off but what struck me most was one day we went to court in one of their appearances.

And there was a young black lawyer there, a friend of mine, we'd gone to law school together, who was well dressed, uh, who was respected, well spoken.

And the awe of these children.

And they were children, they were 12 and 13 years old, to see a black man in that environment, who was treated with respect, who didn't carry a gun, who had money that wasn't illegally made...

And what struck me home was the importance of having positive role models within our community, within family.

Uh, and that message I've seen over and over again.

And I won't bore you will all the examples.

Uh, we also see, uh, somethi... we also see, and I created a sort of chart.

And when I started doing this, the last bulletin, uh, I started seeing the same pattern.

I saw abuse, whether in Canada, and what that tells me, at least, and I hope, uh, it's an indicator to all of you, is that, uh, the problems are global.

They're not limited to Europe.

They're not limited to North America.

But we see children that are often abused, whether that be physical, sexual, psychological abuse, neglect, uh, or abandonment.

And what we have is we have children that are excluded.

We then see that they become runaways, they join gangs, either for protection, either to feel part of something.

And then we see that lead to delinquency.

And often the delinquency increases.

We also know and I'll let experts speak of it, uh, but most of the kids I have that have sexual offences, for example, where they were the offenders, uh, when we had psychological reports from psychologists, uh, and I'm speaking in a totally it's not scientific, but 9 times out of 10, they were victims of some kind of violence themselves in their background.

So we know that, uh, they're victims initially.

What we do at Smile of the child is retake a holistic approach.

Uh, the organization is accredited, uh, by the government, and that ensures that there's quality control.

We have a Memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health and that's important because it not only recognises the importance of NGOs, and as everyone knows, uh, international instruments now, whether they're the EU level or at the Council of Europe, are starting to recognise the important role that civil society plays in taking a multidisciplinary approach.

And in taking a holistic approach to dealing with social issues.

Uh, we have a Memorandum of understanding, which outlines what we are responsible for and what the government is responsible for.

And, as everyone I'm sure appreciates, it's difficult to be an NGO, to work with government and at the same time to act as a watchdog to that same government.

And to point out, often very publicly, uh, what we think improvement... what improvements we believe need to be made.

Uh, one of the important things we... how we started was through our helpline.

And what we found through the helpline, we get over 500000 calls a year, uh, is we found, kids calling us, we found parents calling us, not knowing how to deal with certain issues, uh, that eventually would lead to exclusion.

We had parents calling us to tell us that they don't know how to deal with their kids' delinquency.

And often, before it gets to law we have programs that can assist and intervene.

We also acted as intermediaries between teachers and students.

And by way of example, there one of the children, uh, we have, uh, 180 children that we have legal custody of.

And one of our children, who is from Africa, was going, uh, to a school in a smaller town.

And initially, uh, she started becoming very withdrawn, which we picked up, and she wouldn't explain what was happening.

We found out later that there were problems at school, and they were problems of racism.

And so what we did is we spoke to the teachers, we went to the school immediately, spoke to the teachers, spoke to the principal.

We had, and we created, uh, by speaking to experts, uh, a program on race sensitivity.

And that was about a year and a half ago and I can tell you she's now an A student.

She has friends and there are no other problems.

And that's dealing with the problem before it begins.

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