This research study looks into public misconception on the extent and nature of the increased rate of youth crime and the youth justice system, and the way such misconception respond to youthful offending. Various misconceptions have been identified concerning youth crimes in Canada. It has been shown that, the public is made to believe that there is a drastic increase on youth crime. The belief of the public has been mainly based on the number of statics availed by the media. The availed official statistics in respect to the extent and nature of youth crime, have shown that the public conception about the rapid increase on youth crime is not supported by the available official data.
Reasons for such kind of discrepancy between the available official statistics and public conceptions with regard to youth crime and the youth justice system have been explored. The key role of the media in the shaping of public attitude has been addressed in this study. The negative effects which arise from public misconceptions with regard to youth crime are explored. Among the negative effects of public misconception of youth crime, is making of unnecessary changes on the legislation, public intolerance, and making of inappropriate programs for young offenders.
The paper makes conclusive suggestions which are intended to bridge the gap between the official statistics and the public misconception. Among the recommendations given, it has been suggested that the media should be given proper information about the youth justice system, the public should also be enlightened about the criminal justice system. It has also been suggested that fears that are associated with youth crime should be acknowledged and adequately addressed.
The young offenders Act of 1984 was put in place to reconcile various issues of accountability and responsibility with regard to the young offenders. According to Gates (2004), a wide coverage of by the media with regard to youth crime has led many people to believe and conclude that the applicable policies provided under the Act are not efficient, by showing that youth crimes are increasing day by day both in seriousness of crime, and in number. In fact, the issue of youth crime in Canada has led to a growing public concern due to the realization that the number of youth crime is increasing and getting out of control by the youth justice system, many people are therefore calling for the imposition of harsher policies to deal with youth crime.
This paper considers the degree and the extent in which members of the public feel the impact of youth crime problem, and the popularity of the tendency for criminals to get a tough mentality. The paper will also look into trends of youth crime, and disposition of cases in youth courts will be examined. It will clearly be shown that, the media reports on the increased number of crimes, and the seriousness of such crime is not supported by the available official data (Sprott, 2004).
The Level of Youth Crime Control Based on Both Medial and Official Statistics
Looking at the content and number of media reports with regard to youth crimes, is has been shown that the media has made members of the public to believe that youth crime have increased both in nature of IN seriousness of crime. According to Crawford (2005), the media mislead members of the public by reporting for instance a homicide event which occurs once, in an exaggerated manner, such that people are often confused and made to believe that several events of homicide occurred between different youths. From a research study conducted in the University of Ottawa, it is roughly only one person who gets charged for homicide cases in a period of ten days, but the regular reports by the media make most people believe that there is an increase in serious youth crimes.
According to Howard (2006), trends in the seriousness and frequency of youth crime have been charted from statistics available at the Canadian Center for Justice reports. Such charts are made by looking at the number of young offenders within the age of 12-17 years, who face criminal charges. This is also done by looking at the number of cases which may have been processed in the youth court. The available statistics clearly show that there has been an increase in the number of youth crime between the period of 1986-1987, and the period between 1992-1993. In the previous period, number of youth crimes increased to 27% while the later period had youth crimes increase by 32%. These figures were arrived at by looking at the number of cases heard in court.
Though the media may be correct when reporting such an increase, it fails to consider important factors. To begin with, it is important to note that the increase in the number of youth crimes may have been influenced by important factors, such as the a general population increase on the number of youths in Canada. It is also important to note that from the 81% charges in court, 27% consist of administrative offenses such as failure to comply with probation, or failure to appear before the court, or failure to complete the requirement of community service orders within the required time. Such offenses may often represent a quarter of any offenses reported in a certain period of time.
Crawford (2005) posited that while the media comes out to report, they do not provide clear information on the statistics available. Instead, they emphasize that the crimes reported are of serious nature. This has been a misleading area causing many of the people to believe that youth crime is increasing at a high rate while this is not true.
From the available official statistics, while the rate of youth crime was on the increase between 1986-1987, and 1992-1993, the number has not continued increasing since then. The caseload in most courts has generally decreased by 6.5%. In the recent years, the official statistics show that the general case rate has gone down. On the other hand, the case rate for violent crimes has been on the increasing as the statics indicate 3.5% increase, the drug caseload has perhaps been the worst affected with a great increase of 103.1% (Fulton& Fisher, 2005).
From a speculation done on youth crimes in Toronto, it has been shown that school crimes are a reflection of the policy on zero tolerance, that is applied on most youth practices in Toronto. It is said that any disruptive offenses happening in schools get reported to the police officers instead of being dealt with by the school administrators. From the local studies, no identifiable trend of youth crime rates can clearly be compared to the national statistics. The local studies do not also support the report by the media on the increased rate of youth crime.
Conclusions With Regard to Increases in Youth Crime
Looking at the reports given by the media while compared with official statistics, the media has not been accurate in reporting the increase on youth crime. The media has also not been able to show the category of crimes that have gone up, and those that have reduced. If the media were to do a good job for instance, they should have specified that the general numbers of criminal caseloads have reduced, that the crime category which has been on a high increase in Canada is drug abuse, followed by violent crimes (Collins, 2003).
It is also not true for the media to report that youths in Canada are currently committing more crimes than they used to do in the past. The media in both the national and localized levels has influenced the growing public collection and intolerance differences. The official data available in Canada portrays that the increase in youth crime is equivalent to the population increase on the youth in Canada. The media has failed to show this.
Role of the Media in Reporting Youth Crime
Many scholars who study the juvenile justice system have accepted that the media is greatly to blame for the public perception regarding criminal justice issues. From a research carried out by the Canadian Sentencing Commission, 800 newspapers were studied in Canada, and it was found out that more than half of the criminal cases reported there contained criminal elements, while a quarter of the cases were on homicide. Owen (2004) asserts that this is a clear show that the media over represents violent crimes, given that violent crimes comprise only 11% of all crimes in the Canadian Criminal Court of Justice. Studies have shown that, when editors of these newspapers are questioned, they agree that they concentrate in reporting crimes that are of serious nature as opposed to less serious crimes.
On rare occasions that reporters give information with regard to sentencing, no maximum or minimum penalties for specific offenses have been reported. Furthermore, the media only reports on cases which appear to have been given lenient punishments, with the intention of portraying that the Young Offenders Act, or that the youth criminal justice system is inefficient in dealing with youth crime.
With respect to youth offenders, researchers have shown that the media typically shows that youth activity of any kind is negative, and sensationalizes on rare incidents of youth violence by undertaking to report them repeatedly on several occasions. (Owen (2004) took a sample of three newspapers in Toronto and found that wholly 94% of stories reported on youth crime involved violent offenses. In reality, less than 25% of courts dealing with youths in Ontario cases involve violent crimes. On the other hand, the media wholly discount or ignores acts of violence committed by adults, which are in fact more frequent than those of the youth. This has led to the show of a chronic youth crime problem, which is exaggerated by the lenient Young Offenders Act as the media portray it, through the prohibition of identity of the young offenders to the public.
According to Carrington (2003) this leaves one with the desire that the public would get good information on issues touching the criminal justice, so that the public can be in a position to recognize when the media is biased and when it is neutral in its reports. In one research study however, the media was referred to as the primary source of information for the criminal justice system among 95% of researchers who were surveying the criminal justice system in Canada. Other studies have also shown that the public rely to a large extent on the information provided by the media in concluding the efficiency or shortcomings of the youth criminal justice system in Canada. The result of such reliance of information by the public on the media for criminal justice information, has been established from polls which test public knowledge of the criminal justice system.
From the public response, members of the community consistently do an overestimation of the proportion of crimes which have an element of violence, while compared with all crimes generally. When asked for the minimum or maximum incarceration and sentencing rates for certain offenses, most people responded by stating underestimating both. Finally, public members who gave most inaccurate responses, such as exaggerating violent crimes and underestimating the priority given by the court while deciding on sentencing options, these people mainly rely on the media reports as a means for criminal justice information. Though many people are aware that the media limits its coverage to rare and important events, this however does not adequately influence their perception of youth crime rates.
The opinion of the public has over a long period of time been heavily influenced by the media. The media choose to publish those stories which most of the time invoke the feeling of anger and retribution to the members of the public (McDonald, 2003). The consequence is that most legislatives are often tampered with in the attempt to enforce harsher measures of dealing with the youth. In the recent past, the effort by the media to favor youthful offending serves to provide and reinforce added momentum for the implementation of tough measures to deal with the youth. Such measures would in fact serve to cause anger and fear among members of the public, and to discourage their trust in regard to the criminal justice system.
Consequences of False Public Perceptions
The effects of misleading information by the media may often lead to intolerance results from attitudes on the punitive system. For instance, this may lead to individual coming together to form a strong opposition against the criminal justice system, by formation of lobby groups, or other campaign organizations. This also leads to individuals' reaction to the behavior of the youth which is seen as undesirable. Misconception leads to heightened police intervention to even minor offenses, and leads to increased rates of charges for even those cases which can be resolved through informal means.
The false increase of youth crime reported by the media, has fueled anger among the public and a call for immediate action. In response, most judges have been more punitive to the youth, and the politicians have been compelled to make unnecessary changes on youth crime laws. This leads to some youths facing unnecessary punitive measures for even minor offenses. The government way of responding to public misconception is shown through reforms done on the Youth Offenses Act, recently passed by the federal government.
Public misconception can have negative effects on the available programing choices. A public which looks at the justice system as too lenient to deal with the apparent problem, or perceives a great increase on the youth crime, may end up demanding for tougher measures to deal with young offenders.
Conclusion and Recommendations.
From the above discussion, the media has played the major role of misleading members of the public on youth crime rates, both on the general increase and an increase as to the seriousness of a crime. Such misconception by the public has critical consequences, including the need to keep changing youth crime laws, calling for unnecessary police intervention on youth activities, and the imposition of harsh measures while dealing with youth crimes (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004).
The major tool through which the problem of public misconception can be solved is through dissemination of accurate crime statistics. Persons who deal with such statistics should often make sure that such statistics are presented to the public, so as to show the public the real figures on crime rates. This will help the public know when the media is reporting the correct information, and when it gets biased.
The government should also put in place policies and programs to enlighten the public on the role and efficiency of the youth justice system, as well as informing the public about the accurate crime rates to help solve the misconception problem facing the public. It has been shown that, people who are well informed about criminal justice issues have less convictions and more rational perceptions as compared to those who have limited knowledge (Crawford, 2005).
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