Article 1 – A Thompson Youth’s Perspective on Youth Deliquency and Crime
By Jaydeen Lachapelle
First, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself and how I relate to the topic of youth delinquency and crime. I am from Thompson, but my familial roots are in Cross Lake First Nation. I was in foster care from the ages of 13-18, and during this time, delinquent behaviours and unsafe situations became a normal part of my daily life. I choose to share my experiences for a better understanding of potential factors of crimes committed by youth who have a similar life as I did. However, this account is my own perspective, and through my own story, I hope to offer an insight into youth delinquency and crime. As Margaret Kovach (2018) states,
…behind every statistic there is a story. Story is a powerful communicative event. It is the sharing of story, the witnessing of story, and the learning from story that the Indigenous Elders know hold the potential for shifts in consciousness. This is a transformative shift that first happens in a performative testimonial space that is viscerally known in the relationships that embrace story. (p. 52)
Recently, there has been a significant increase of youth crime in Thompson, Manitoba. Violent and non-violent crimes have been committed by an increasing amount of youth lately, such as car stealing, breaking and entering, stories of stealing and robbery of a jacket and a cellular phone, etc. (See Thompson Citizen, October 22 2019, November 6, 2019, January 21 and 29, 2020 and March 26, 2020). Youth crime has become a topic for discussion on social media, spurring many adults to direct their hostilities towards youth with their comments. These comments have affected me on a personal level because I used to be one of those youths, and I used to have friends who displayed violent behaviours. I know from my personal experience that youths are committing criminal acts because of social inequalities. This is not to justify their behaviours, but to understand the underlying factors that contribute to youth delinquency and crime, in order to address this issue in Thompson and many other communities.
What are the potential social factors that contribute to youth crime and delinquency? To me, it is social influences and social inequalities. I will be using the microsystem of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model to highlight the significance of family, education, and peers that affect a child and adolescent’s life, which results in youth crime and delinquency. My personal experience will attest Bronfenbrenner’s Model in the discussion of the implications of treatment and social inequalities. This research is a brief account of the potential contributing factors of youth crime, at least in Thompson, Manitoba. It may also serve to provide a framework for addressing this social problem in a larger sense.
The first social influence which children have are their parents or guardians. This social influence is critical for the future relationships of the child (Ateah, Cavanaugh, & Kail, 2015). Children learn the norms of society from their immediate family that sets precedence for their lives (Harro, 2013). John Bowlby suggests that a child needs to establish a secure bond with a guardian to be more likely to survive (Ateah, Cavanaugh, & Kail, 2015). In Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model, the family is part of the microsystem. This theory suggests that the relationship between children and their family is what shapes the child’s behaviours (Seow, 2015). When considering youth delinquency and crime, it is necessary to examine the relationships that have existed in the child’s microsystem.
If a child is exposed to domestic violence within his or her own family, this may influence how the child perceives violence. Ono & Pumariega (2008) suggest that a factor that contributes to youth violence is the witnessing of violence at home and in the community, which according to Baek, Higgins & Roberts (2018), has implications on the family as it directly correlates with youth delinquency. Differential Association Theory suggests, “criminal behaviour is… learned in interaction with other people in [the] socialization process that normally occurs within the context of a small group” (Barlas, 2020, Part 3). A child’s mind is very observant and is in the process of being programmed for the rest of his life, so it is evident that witnessing violence would lead to violent behaviours. Ludwig & Warren (2009) point out that children who see violence are more likely to display the same behaviour. Witnessing violence does not only have to be from violence which has occurred in the family, but violence in the community as well (Ono & Pumaiega, 2008). Some friends I had as a youth were exposed to domestic violence, and later they participated in fighting either out of anger or just for fun. Unfortunately, those who experienced domestic or community violence tended to resort to violence rather than seeking for reconciliation whenever they were angry with others.
Abuse and neglect are also factors leading to youth violence. Child abuse and severe neglect have long-term effects on anyone’s life. Being abused and/or neglected as a child alters the development of the part of the brain responsible for morals, impulse control, and abstract reasoning (Garbarino, 2001). Being traumatized at such a young age normalizes violence in the mind and leads to coping mechanisms that become wired into the brain. In a study of child abuse in Canada, Bodkin et al. (2019) found that half of people incarcerated as an adult have endured some form of abuse as a child. This finding is unfortunate, but it is also helpful to deal with youth violence. If more opportunities are in place for families to achieve socioeconomic equalities, this could help curb the abuse that happens within the child’s home. Fortson, Klevens, Merrick, Gilbert, and Alexander (2016) suggests that building financial security within families and incorporating family-friendly policies within workplaces helps prevent abuse in the home. Strengthening the family may lessen feelings of disparity due to finances, which could curb the abuse that happens. This could also lead to less youth crime and involvement with the criminal justice system, which can be traumatic for youth.
Another aspect that is related to the precursors for youth crime is trauma. Nichols (2004) suggests that traumatic experiences as a child are precursors for youth violence. Children who are abused and/or neglected are most likely to develop attachment and abandonment issues as they grow up. With these issues present, it becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible to form healthy relationships with others. This leads to their feeling a sense of rejection and/or exclusion from others. Chiodo, Leschied, Marquis, & O’Neill (2008) suggest that when a foster child is apprehended from his own family, his attachment to his family is broken, which, in return, leads to mistrust and rejection, and results in rage. Nichols (2004) points out that when children are abused or neglected, their brain becomes wired to be in survival mode. In other words, children are always in a defensive state of mind and act accordingly. Considering this, it is easier to understand how peaceful family upbringing helps youth and children curb their behaviours so that violence will not become a recurring event.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is common in those who are violent youth. Ludwig & Warren (2009) stated,
Previous literature indicates that exposure to violence, even when it does not include being a victim of such violence…, is associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms and increased internalizing and externalizing symptoms including the loss of hope and the perpetration of violence. (p.1062)
The consequences of PTSD alter the life experiences of those who suffer from it. PTSD can prevent people from enjoying their lives fully. Youth who suffer from PTSD have developed coping mechanisms to protect themselves from further traumatic experiences. For instance, they may have a more difficult time showing empathy for others.
Fox & Owen (2011) discuss that shame and empathy are significant factors that lead to violence displayed by youth. Youth who feel shame are more likely to display aggression and violent behaviours. Shame is a negative feeling that is often felt when one is rejected or excluded. Persons who feel shame may wish to act aggressively to show that they have control or power in the situation to regain their pride. Those who have been abused often feel shame. To re-gain their pride, they may use violence as a power-over technique. It is important to use reiterative shaming when disciplining youths for negative behaviours. This allows for youths to understand that they have done harm to others or property, while offering them words of encouragement to change their behaviours, so they do not feel socially excluded. This is a critical aspect of restorative justice, which has been shown to be effective (Barlas, 2020, Restorative Justice).
Lacking empathy is a common symptom of anti-social personality disorder, which is present in many violent people. Those who lack empathy due to mental or emotional disorders are more likely to show aggression and violent behaviours. For less severe cases, this lack of empathy increases the likelihood of youth committing offences such as physical harm to others or damaging other’s property. Youth who do not show remorse often rationalise negative behaviours, lessen personal responsibility, deny the seriousness or harm, and blame victims (Barlas, 2020, Restorative Justice). The lack of empathy also affects their relationships with their families, and contributes to bullying as well.
If a child or youth is being bullied at home or in the community, they may normalize this behaviour and enact harm towards others as well. Ono & Pumariegam (2008) note that children who were exposed to bullying shared common mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are common problems that children and adolescents experience when they were exposed to bullying. Those children and adolescents, who bully others, usually have been bullied themselves. Bullies can be very intimidating and frightening to their victims, which could lead to long-term effects such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, bullying is still quite common in elementary schools and high schools all over the world.
The second aspect of the microsystem in the Ecological Model that is critical to examine is the school. It is the second aspect that socializes the child. Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance suggests that when society influences individuals to achieve success in life, those who do not have the same opportunities to do so are more likely to commit crimes (Barlas, 2020). In Thompson, the education system seems to be structured in a Western format, which divides students into grades based on age groups. The education system also favours European values and principles, even though there are a variety of students who differentiate in their learning styles and/or have different cultural backgrounds. There is limited cultural or social backgrounds taken into consideration within the western education system. This is a limitation for those who are being socialized to be successful because they have to struggle to meet the expectations put forth by their educators. Therefore, those who are struggling academically may be labelled as students who requires an alternative classroom and/or school.
The first time I noticed the segregation of students who struggled academically was in Grade 5. This may have been a solution for the institution to provide children with the opportunity to feel comfortable at their own academic level, but I believe this solution also had negative consequences. I was friends with some students who had to attend an alternative classroom that was separated from all other classrooms, as opposed to being with the mainstream. The children whom I knew in this class continued to struggle academically and now, because of the separation between them and the rest of the school, they have become socially isolated. The problem was necessitated due to the fact that they were made to interact only with each other. Albert Cohen (1955) suggested that youth who are unable to meet the expectations of the education system develop a subculture of delinquency to achieve their own social status (cited in Barlas, 2020, Part 2). Although that was about 15 years ago, the three, I remember, who attended that classroom, did not finish high school. In fact, two of them have been heavily involved with the criminal justice system since they were adolescents.
I was also put in an off-campus classroom one time when I was re-enrolled in R. D. Parker to help improve my attendance in school. This solution did not have a positive impact on my attendance at all because it made me feel like an outsider, being segregated from the mainstream who were enrolled at R.D. Parker. Some classmates of mine were in a similar life situation as I was at that time. When youth of the working-class internalize middle-class beliefs, they are more likely to feel shame when they cannot meet the expectations set forth by their middle-class educators (Barlas, 2020, Part 2). I understand that this off-campus classroom might have seemed like a logical solution to help us with learning, but even though with its good intention, the school valued us as out-of-place students; besides that, our teacher was not a mental health worker. The issue with this classroom was that we all came with our own baggage and we all wanted to feel like we belonged, so we supported each other in negative ways to make us belong to this out-of-place group. Our classroom at the time was located upstairs in what is now known as Prince Furniture. This location was perfect for us to skip classes, hang out at the mall, and find people to buy us alcohol. As a result, I did not last long there.
Another issue with education is the high level of dropping out that is common among youth in Thompson. When I entered Grade 9, I had already been under the care of Child and Family Services (CFS). I enrolled at R.D. Parker Collegiate on September 6, 2006 for the first time. The attendance records indicated that on September 7, I was marked absent for two classes that day. It also showed that I was marked absent in 22 classes up until October 31, 2006. On this day, my absences increased from the occasional one or two classes missed a day, to four or five classes missed a day. It is hard to decipher when the exact date is when I had dropped out, but from November 1, 2006 to March 5, 2007, I was marked absent 177 times (School District of Mystery Lake, 2020). From the school report, I was enrolled in 10 classes from September 2006 until March 2007. I had only received credit for three classes, which were final grades of 51, 52, and 69, due to my lack of attendance (R.D. Parker Collegiate, 2020).
My absences in school reflected the lack of stability I had as a youth in care, moving from one foster home to another. I did not feel the need to take anything serious because I knew that it was only a matter of time before my life situation changed again as usual. Quite frequently I moved to a new foster home and had to settle in and get used to new caregivers each time. It seemed like whenever I got comfortable in a home, I would end up doing something to mess up my living situation or I would want to move. Batista, Friedmann, & Johnson (2018) state that: “Emotional trauma, separation from family, frequent placement with different guardians, and school changes can leave young people feeling disempowered” (p. 532). I felt disempowered because I did not have emotional support in my life. It also reflects that I was skipping school as a way of acting out because I felt that no one cared about me. Control theory suggests that when children do not have a solidified bond with their parents, they are more likely to go against social norms because they feel that they do not have much to lose (Barlas, 2020, Part 2). That is exactly how I felt during my adolescence.
I was already abusing alcohol and drugs during my first year of high school, and sometimes, my friends and I would go to the high school just to gather so we could go and drink. I enrolled in the same school again in September 2007 but was withdrawn on April 18, 2008 due to ‘non-attendance’ (School District of Mystery Lake). On September 3, 2008, I was enrolled in R.D. Parker again but was forced to withdraw on January 16, 2009 to attend the Behavioural Health Foundation (BHF) in St. Norbert, Manitoba. So, an alternative classroom did not help me with education; instead, it drove me out of school sooner than I thought.
I was 15 years old when I was sent to the Behavioural Health Foundation (BHF) and stayed there until I had completed the program three months later. It was during this period that I was introduced to ceremonies for the first time. This treatment program was designed using a holistic approach to provide “programming to persons with addictions and co-occurring mental health issues” (Behavioural Health Foundation, 2020). According to Hyatt (2013), the sweat lodge is a ceremony that can help to restore the imbalance in a person’s life, such as a person who is abusing substances. I attended a sweat lodge for the first time there, and when I went inside the lodge, I felt like I was home. The music and everything inside the lodge impacted me emotionally. After the first attendance of a sweat lodge, I reflected on my life, and since that day I have always felt an imbalance when not connecting to ceremonies.
In her article focusing on Indigenous inmates and healing, Hyatt (2013) argues that spiritual healing offers an understanding of history, how imbalances affects others, and how substance abuse has historical roots to colonialism. Weekly sharing circles were a part of the program there as well. Moderated by an Elder, everyone would sit in a circle and take turns talking about their past traumas and current feelings. This method of healing was helpful for our recovery, as it connected us to our cultures. It allowed us, teenage girls, to realize what the problems were that we were facing, and how we could start to address these problems. Indigenous ways of healing, such as these, are extremely important for Indigenous youth to realize what is happening that makes them delinquent and crime-ridden.
It is important for youth leaving treatment, to have healthy emotional supports available to them when rehabilitation programs are completed. I did not have the positive emotional supports that I needed when I completed treatment. The day I finished the program, I got off the Winnipeg to Thompson bus in the late evening, went to drop off my belongings at my foster home, and went on partying. This was a reality for many youths leaving treatment because of the lack of positive emotional support. The healing process that takes place in treatment requires reliving past wounds and trauma. Without having emotional supports and a solidified plan to help these youth when they are returning home, may cause them to fall back into old habits as I did.
Coping mechanisms such as substance abuse are common in adolescents who have experienced traumatic events, and have exhibited violence. While I was a teenager, it was uncommon to hear one of my friends say that they had never experienced a traumatic event. These stories would always come out when we were under the influence of alcohol. We were a group of hurt teenagers who used alcohol to cope with these traumatizing experiences and past hurts. When we gathered to drink and talk about these issues, it became a new level of a coping mechanism. Although these coping mechanisms are not healthy ways of dealing with issues, especially trauma, they are all many of us had – this kind of support from each other. Alcohol and substance abuse are common in today’s youth, which impairs their judgment, leading to youth delinquency and crime.
When considering the social inequalities that contribute to youth violence in Thompson, poverty and the lack of opportunities are the key factors. As the “Hub of the North,” Thompson is a city that many people from outlying communities travel to for medical care, affordable goods, education, employment, and a place to reside in. Thompson is diverse in culture and is home to many people from different ethnic backgrounds. It should be of no surprise to those who have been to Thompson; however, there are social inequalities present in our city. This is obvious around the downtown area when observing the number of homeless individuals, and the high crime rate exposed in the media.
Many people in Thompson live in poverty for many reasons beyond their control: lack of employment opportunities, education, or child-care. According to Hendrick (2015), “‘the poor’ in particular, as opposed to the children of the ‘respectable’ working class, are always regarded as liable to disrupt social stability, if only through anti-social behaviour” (p. 8). Youth who live in poverty are more likely to commit crimes because of the lack of opportunities available to them such as recreation, education, and/or employment. Ludwig & Warren (2009) suggest that for youth to be able to avoid or change delinquent behaviour they must be given opportunities to thrive in education or interests of their own.
At age 16, I was given the opportunity to attend the Youth Build program that was offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson. This 10-month program was designed to offer life skills, high school education, and employment training for youth to be able to establish the skills needed to integrate into society. Because of this opportunity, I was able to establish a sense of hopefulness for my future and began to set goals to gain a better life. The class of 2009/2010 started with over 20 students but not all those students completed the program.
The life skills coach at the time was Lynn Sauve, who changed my life’s path. I remember one time when I left the building angrily and said I was not coming back. This woman chased me all the way down the road, calmed me down, and held me while I cried. In that moment, I thought to myself, “Wow, she actually cares about me. It matters to her that I left.” Lynn’s compassion may seem like nothing to some people, but it was important for me. Before that episode, I was used to running away and would always do so when I was faced with problems. It was Lynn who changed my habit of running away from issues to one of facing them head-on. She taught me that no matter where I ran, the problems would still be there, so I had to start dealing with these issues. Phil Neziol is another extraordinary person who showed compassion to many students who attended the Youth Build program. Regardless of students’ angers and hostilities towards him, he constantly provided his assistance to those who were struggling academically. This program and its educators were crucial in my life as it provided the foundation of a healing journey that I am still on today.
There are many children who are under the care of CFS in Thompson. Regardless of how they ended up in the child welfare system, they are in it, and often, they have limited opportunities to participate in recreational activities that require money. When I was a ward of CFS, I had access to funds for recreational activities. Without utilizing the funds for recreational purpose, it built up over the years, so I ended up using this money to buy furniture when I aged out of the system. Aging out of the system is when a foster child turns 18 years old (some children may receive an extension) and becomes an instant adult whereby they are no longer offered emotional or financial supports by the government (Goyette, Marion, & Paulsen, 2017). I was thankful for the financial support at that time. However, when I reflect on how the money was used then, I wonder about a different outcome. If I were given the opportunity to use that money to become involved in community-oriented activities while I was in care, then I might have been too busy to be involved with crimes and delinquencies. I am not saying that social workers do not do their jobs; I am saying that maybe there should be a person in each agency delegated to ensuring that all children under the care of CFS have the recreational opportunities that are available to them. If I had had those recreational opportunities, it may have resulted in a more positive experience under the care of CFS.
On the other hand, when looking for recreational activities to participate in Thompson, one must look hard to find them. In the summer, there are schoolyards and baseball fields available for public use, but these are often utilized by younger children and adults. There are drop-in centres for youth but in my experience, they may have negative consequences if not structured properly. The activities that are available for youth often require a fee such as the movie theatre or community sports like hockey. Registration fees for hockey vary between $175 and $425 a year per child, depending on age (Thompson Minor Hockey Association, 2020). This fee does not include expensive hockey equipment or travel expenses that come with the competitive levels. When looking at the lowest prices for basic hockey equipment on the Sport Chek website, the total came up to $284.93 (Sport Chek, 2020). Hockey equipment varies greatly depending on the quality of the equipment and the size needed for the player. Youth who cannot afford to play hockey or other sports, have less opportunities to stay out of trouble and use their time productively. The availability of unplanned time results in youth crime and delinquency.
Parents who can afford to register their children into hockey programs are privileged; not many parents in Thompson are so blessed. Children growing up playing hockey have the advantage of establishing a sense of belonging to the hockey community. This allows them to be able to integrate into society easier than those who do not feel that same sense of belonging to a community. Hirschi (1969) argued that if youth are involved in sports, such as hockey, they will be less likely to commit crimes because they are utilizing their time effectively (cited in Barlas, 2020, Part 2). Unfortunately, in Thompson, the percentage of families who can afford to send their children to hockey is low.
Parents and/or guardians are supposed to be the providers for their children, but what happens to youths when their parents have limited access to employment opportunities? They often must go on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA), which is a low source of income when trying to meet the basic needs of a family. EIA may be “free money” to those who do not have jobs, but considering the rental prices in Thompson, some families barely have money to feed after the rent is paid. For example, EIA offers $1,367 in monthly, provincial assistance to a single parent with one child between the age of 7-11 years, and the second child between 0-6 years (see Government of Manitoba website for more information: Government of Manitoba, 2020). Apartment and townhouses rentals in Thompson vary, but Allied Rentals and Highland Tower charge between $602 – $1399 monthly for a one to four-bedroom residence (Allied Rentals Ltd., 2020; Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd., 2020).
I used to live in Highland Tower when I was a single mother of one, receiving EIA. To live there, I had to sign an agreement with the Province of Manitoba because the rental price exceeded the amount I received through EIA. The extra amount of money had to be paid from the Child Tax Benefit that I received from the Government of Canada, which left me with little money for basic needs for survival. This is a common reality for many people receiving EIA in the north. When I was 15, my dream life consisted of living on social assistance and having children because this way of surviving was the common option presented to me. It was what I saw among my friends’ families and in the foster homes which I lived in. It became normalized for me, and I internalized that I would not be capable of much more than living my life that way. Banks & Stephen (2018) refer to this as internalized oppression, whereby an oppressed person believes in the dominant society’s view of that oppressed group, limiting their success. Before wanting this kind of life, I had wanted to sell drugs for a better living, as did many of my peers.
As a teenager, I witnessed a heavy presence of street gangs in Thompson. Gang members were like role models for many Indigenous youth at the time. For me, it all started in Davis Bay, which is now known as Grey Wolf Bay. Before becoming involved with Child and Family Services, that was where my family resided. Davis Bay was a small area comprising of 120 compacted townhouse units lining along two connected streets. Before the takeover by a new management which transformed the area entirely, social problems in this area were pronounced. There was a definite presence of drugs and alcohol abuse, violence, delinquent and criminal activities enacted by adults, youth, and even children. Cunneen & White (2015) correlate a high crime neighbourhood with the risk of youth committing crimes. Social disorganization perspective suggests that this type of economically disadvantaged neighbourhood would contribute to higher levels of delinquency (Barlas, 2020, Part 1).
In such a compacted neighbourhood, there were many children and youth. Many of these youth would be out at all hours of the night on the weekends. The lack of supervision led to delinquent and sometimes criminal behaviours. Thrasher (1927) argued that this lack of supervision leads to gang involvement (cited in Barlas, 2020, Part 1). This is what happened to that area; the available recreational activities were dangerous activities such as bumper shining (hanging on to a vehicle’s bumper while it is in motion) on the back of a bus, and climbing on buildings in the area. These activities soon progressed to damaging property, violence, and steady alcohol and drug abuse. The group of youth in Davis Bay were close friends and often hung out with each other in large numbers. These youth were my friends at the time when I lived with my parents, but I was hardly out at late hours of the night due to an early curfew put in place by my parents. When the new management came into effect, residents in Davis Bay were forced to find residences elsewhere, which split everyone up into different areas of the city.
By the time residents were forced to relocate, I was already in care of CFS and away from the neighbourhood. The Boys and Girls Club (BGC) became the new substitute for Davis Bay. Many of the youth that grew up together in Davis Bay began using the BGC as a centralized hang out place since everyone was spread-out all-over town now. The BGC was located on Cree Road, across from KFC, and many of us would often go there for the Late-Night Program. The Late-Night program was designed to offer youth with a safe place to go, to play video games, go on the computers, etc. We started using this place as a way of meeting up to go and buy alcohol and to party. Many of us ended up getting really intoxicated and going there to hang out afterwards, until staff noticed we were under the influence. When we were kicked out of the BGC, we would end up at the Hideout or vice versa. The Hideout was just down the road beside the Manitoba Metis Federation. These drop-in centres offered a sense of belonging and places in which we could all hang out together.
Throughout the time that we had been utilizing these drop-in centres, we would often walk around in large numbers. These numbers fluctuated between as little as two youth to as many as thirty youth walking around Thompson, all wearing the same colour to identify ourselves. This colour represented who we were, and it represented our place in the world, or sense of belonging. Cunneen & White (2015) suggest that this sense of belonging is the social imperative and it is a definite characteristic of gangs. By this definition, we were a youth gang and wanted to be gang members like the more organized street gangs who were present in Thompson at the time. Mellor et al (2005) refer to youth gangs as a large group of youth who display gang behaviours and are involved in criminal activities, but are not organized structurally like a street gang (cited in Grekul & Sinclair, 2012). Citing James Vigil (2002) in their work, Comack, Deane, & Silver (2013) write: “The street gang is an outcome of marginalization, that is, the relegation of certain persons or groups to the fringes of society, where social and economic conditions result in powerlessness” (p. 13). As marginalized individuals, we were relatively small compared to the overall society, but the small group to which we belonged, brought a sense of power and a lot of police attention.
The police would often pull over when they spotted us. The young men of our group were searched regularly for weapons or drugs; if there were women police officers present, the young women would be searched as well. The heavy encounters resulted in our notoriety to the police. In return, we endured the harassments, and many of us were hostile towards the police. As The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres point out: “In many communities, Indigenous people suffer egregious treatment by law enforcement that takes the form of targeted questioning, harassment, and provocation, and can lead to police brutality, charges, and the act of ‘over-charging’ individuals” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2017). This is known as racial profiling. According to Webster (2015), youth who are not involved in education, employment, or training are more likely to be stopped by police because of their availability, which leads to mistrust for police and criminality. The police were doing what was in the best interest of the community, but it was also a fact that we were criminalized by the police at an early age. Relating to black youth, Webster (2015) suggested that the police and media had over exaggerated the notion of black crime in society, and because of that, there was over-policing and criminalization of black persons. This criminalization of youth, many of whom I have known, led to on-going occurrences with the police and criminal justice system.
Many people would look at youth gangs and think that they should all be thrown into jail so that they will learn a lesson. At this stage of life, becoming involved with the criminal justice system and thrown into jail can have long-lasting consequences to their mental health. For many of us, this youth gang was our substitute for family. The love and support we had for each other was what we needed to survive the social inequalities present in our lives. Cohen (1955) called this reaction “formation,” whereby youth who have damaged self-esteem turn to a delinquent subculture as a method of dealing with issues (Barlas,Part 2, 2020). Youth in gangs usually live in poverty and have been socialized by the streets rather than institutions (Comack, Deane, & Silver, 2013). Yes, delinquent and criminal behaviours were a part of our lives, but many of us did not have positive role models during our childhood. William Wilson (1987) suggested that when youth do not have a positive role model, they are less likely to become an ideal member of society (cited in Barlas, 2020, Part 1). The role models that many of us had wore big gold chains and always had money available to them; they all showed animosity for authority; drug-dealing, gang life, and the power to live without poverty were a dream that we felt achievable for us at those unstable times of our lives.
After becoming pregnant at age 16, the dream of selling drugs for a living started fading away from me. I finally realized that I needed to live not just for survival, but for my baby. Although the group of my friends remained the same, the delinquent behaviours I was involved in slowed down drastically. I was now the mother of a child and could not bring my child around those activities. Some of my friends around that time were beginning to spend time in and out of youth centres and jails. Others had started becoming involved in street gangs. Some of the friends that I grew up with committed suicide; some died of drugs abuse and violence because they were just trying to survive in a world that pushed them to the side. I had to distance myself from my peers to give my children a better life. Whenever I hear about another death of an old friend, it hurts me. It hurts me because having to survive and not live is all too common for Indigenous youth. This needs to change because every child matters. That is why I choose to use my past to provide an understanding of the realities of surviving, instead of living a descent life as a youth.
As stated in the Introduction to this paper, there has been numerous criminal acts committed by the youth in Thompson this year. The media seems to report on every single incident that happens because of youth crime without supporting their story with accurate analysis. People on social media have been doing the same, posting photos/videos/statuses about youth crimes on Facebook with no discussion on the social situations the youth is facing. As a result of the posts on social media, the community members become stereotypical, arrogant, hostile, and display a lack empathy for these youth. When I see these posts, I get angered because I was a youth like that; I was a hurt child trying to find my place in the world.
This type of hostility directed at youth only adds fuel to the fire. As a youth, my friends and I would get excited when adults were angry with us, so we wanted to get them angrier. “According to labeling theory…, official sanctioning for delinquent behaviour fosters recidivism, in part, by contributing to the development of deviant self-meanings (Carr, Kroska, & Lee, 2016, p. 74). Labelling the youth could only result in a worse outcome. Cunneen & White (2015) add further:
A big issue for young people is that they are increasingly made to feel as if they are ‘outsiders.’ This is confirmed daily in the form of exclusionary policies and coercive security and policing measures which are designed precisely to remove them from the public domain. For young people, this is often seen as unfair and unwarranted. It can certainly breed resentment and various forms of social resistance. (p. 27)
Frank Tennenbaum’s “tagging” theory suggests that tagging a youth with a negative label may cause that youth to resist societal expectations even further (Barlas, 2020, Part 3). I was labelled a runaway, a bad kid, and worse. Experiencing this as a teenager really opened my mind up to the hatred toward youth. It is almost as if adults forget that they, too, were once youth.
The microsystem has critical influences in a child’s life. When the aspects within the microsystem are not positive influences in a child’s life, they can result in youth crime and delinquency. The social inequalities prevalent in Thompson have impacted the lives of all members of the community. Hostility, arrogance, and social media overexposure have negative effects when it is directed at youth. I must state that I do not condone violent behaviours such as murder or attempted murder, but we need to understand where the youth are coming from. It may be hard to have empathy for these youth, but what they need is more supports, and to feel welcomed in a society where they are marginalized. To address this problem in Thompson, we need to look at preventative measures that can be implemented. The police can apprehend youth, but without addressing social inequalities, the cycle of youth crime will continue. The crimes that youths commit result from surviving adolescence and not living, due to the lack of opportunities available to them. I was fortunate to be reunited with my family again after I turned 18, having a couple of strong supports, and other opportunities to get me to where I am today. It is not realistic to think that just because I changed my life, that everyone else has the same capacity to do so. It is a reality that a lot of youth and adults have struggled far worse than I have undergone and will not live to see opportunities like I have.
Although I have not mentioned the legacy of residential school in this paper, the intergenerational effects of the residential school system continue to disrupt Indigenous families. Children who are Indigenous and/or under the care of Child and Family Services are especially vulnerable to youth crime and delinquency because of this disruption. More research needs to be done to link the intergenerational effects of the residential school system to youth crime among Indigenous youth.
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Author’s Bio: Jaydeen Lachapelle, 27 years old, is a mother of two children. She is a band member of Cross Lake First Nation, but has spent most of her life in Thompson. Currently, she is in the third year of her BA, a four year program in Aboriginal and Northern Studies. Her academic goal is to complete her MA either in Native Studies at the University of Manitoba or in Indigenous Governance at the University of Winnipeg.
Instructor’s Remarks: I recall my first impression of Jaydeen was that this person is an activist with a strong spirit. Several years passed before I had the opportunity to have her as my student again. The Crime and Society course elicited further academic insight through a personal narrative and lens. As the course material was presented, I watched as she began to bridge sociological theories with her own experiences. The passion around the topic and focus was quite evident as she shared her thoughts. Jaydeen’s advocacy for youth perspectives were clear. Her willingness to share her own personal story to educate others and relate to those who are going through similar experiences is not only commendable, but courageous. The reality around youth crime is a sad one and understanding various sociological factors may assist in prevention. As she shares her journey through various layers in society ranging from family, education and non-profit agencies, she also notes the significance of having more research related to inter-generational effects of residential school and impacts on Indigenous youth crime. From an instructor’s perspective, I am particularly thrilled with the inclusion of this piece in this issue and would like to thank the MFTN editors’ concerted effort in having this published. Jaydeen’s academic contribution towards Indigenous youth perspectives is not only pertinent but also valuable. (Professor Noreen Barlas)