Cash from Forest Hill aids downtown kids

PACT Program steers troubled youth away from court

By Andrew Matte

An often-praised program that helps put troubled youth back on the straight and narrow is heaping praise of its own on the Rotary Club of Toronto-Forest Hill for a recent donation.

The local club recently cut a cheque for $4,000 to the PACT Youth Crime Reduction Program, which is establishing a new office downtown that will work with kids in trouble with the law.

The PACT program (an acronym for participation, acknowledgement, commitment and transformation) works with teens charged with crime and counsels them instead of having them processed through the court system. By taking part in sessions that include confronting the victims of their crimes and even re-enacting their crimes in special workshops, officials say the program is regularly successful in keeping its clients from re-offending while also clearing up serious court backlogs.

The money from the service club, which has been a long supporter of the program through its Urban Peace Initiative, will be used to help establish a new program that operates out of Toronto Youth Court at 311 Jarvis St.

The program, which involves youth, crown attorneys and community members, has begun to move downtown with its first few cases in early March. This is the third local program to be established — it’s been in operation for the past two years at the Metro East Youth Court in Scarborough and recently launched at the Metro West Youth Court.

PACT said it will help two or three victims of youth crime out of the downtown court in the early weeks, and deal effectively with two or three young offenders by having them go through the program rather than be found guilty and sentenced in youth court. It’s expected to process between five and six clients a week when it’s running at full capacity.

Terance Brouse of PACT said the program relies predominately on funding from local Rotary Clubs, as well as donations from companies and private citizens. PACT has no offices itself or other infrastructure, but rather operates out of youth court offices and uses facilities of local communities or youth groups.

The money pays for a PACT facilitator to negotiate through the program, which includes a “circle” where the offender meets with the offender and other officials in order to hash out the details of the crime.

“It costs about $500 to put one person through the program, and that is a bargain compared to what it costs to have them processed through the court system,” he said.

“The tide is changing for how we deal with youth crime in Toronto,” he said.

Brouse said he is also hopeful the province and the city becomes a greater advocate of PACT.

“The attorney general and the city (of Toronto) have both shown solid leadership in terms of looking at holistic solutions for crime prevention,” he said.

Rotary Club president Don Cassidy said contributing to PACT is easy, especially since it fulfills the mandate of his club, as well as does some measurable good in the community.

“PACT is designed to erode the foundation for criminal behaviour in our youth, and empower the victims of crime, allowing Rotary to fulfill the Urban Peace initiative