Youth crime project makes a difference

PACT program between young offenders, victims originally launched in Scarborough

LISA RAINFORD – Jan. 2, 2004

Pushed to the brink by his alcoholic parents, a teen with a severe anger management problem who was prone to violent outbursts struck his mother with a broom during an argument.

It was the culmination of a pushing and shoving match, nothing new to the mother and son, the sort of thing that often attracted police to their home.

Her injuries included a black eye and bruising to her arm. Officers charged the boy with assault with a weapon and at the time said he would most likely “become a headline” were it not for the intervention of PACT, a youth crime reduction program.

Fortunately for this boy, the Crown attorney and youth court manager referred his case to PACT.

“With the new government, the whole take on youth crime is changing. We want to protect the public, but take the strain off the courts,” said Terance Brouse of PACT’s corporate relations.

“One of the ways to do this is through restorative justice. It was first brought to the mainstream court system 15 years ago and is really catching on in Canada. We’re not talking about someone who pistol whipped his grandmother, but someone who gets into fist fights – young offenders who are getting their first taste of crime.”

Young offenders must abide by the rules of PACT and must agree to participate in its resolution process. Their only other choice is to face the consequences in the regular court system.

The PACT program is comprised of three stages. It begins with a resolution conference, also known as a sentencing circle. Inspired by a model that was developed in an Australian Aboriginal community, a dialogue is initiated with the victim, the offender and his or her family, community members and police officers.

Through a discussion, the offender learns how his or her behaviour has affected others. Taking responsibility for his or her actions can lead to the healing of emotional wounds for everyone involved.

Then the circle or group decides on a set of conditions that the offender agrees to follow, a legal contract is signed and monitored and may include a letter of apology, community work or financial compensation.

In the Scarborough teen’s case, police soon realized his parents were heavy drinkers and referred them to counselling.

“We got the kid some books that dealt with anger management and 300 Kleenex later, the transformation was incredible with the kid and his parents,” said Brouse.

The last two phases of the program include specialized counselling – offered to re-offenders and traumatized victims and coaching and mentoring, which is geared to the most serious young offenders.

These offenders are assigned a personal coach who works with them individually and in group sessions for up to one year. The strategies for phase three have been derived from the best coaching programs in the world, according to Brouse.

“It’s an amazing program,” he said. “It’s basically common sense, but when you’re dealing with youth they don’t always have good judgment.”

PACT has been running successfully out of the Metro East Youth Court in Scarborough. The 100 per cent privately funded program joins the Metro West Court – an amalgamation of the Etobicoke and North York Youth Courts.

Richard Blouin, assistant Crown attorney and youth court manager, said, “The PACT program is a highly effective tool for reducing youth crime. Having the young offender hear from the victim about the harm caused and what’s needed to repair it is very valuable.

“Moreover, I’ve spoken to victims about PACT and what they like is having a voice. That’s something that doesn’t happen when cases go to court. As for the consequences handed out to the young offender, with PACT they happen quickly and are often more extensive and meaningful than a judge would order.”