The Challenges of Youth Justice in Rural and Isolated Areas in Canada

5. Issues Specific to Rural, Isolated and Aboriginal Areas

5. Issues Specific to Rural, Isolated and Aboriginal Areas

5.1 Rural

  • Although both rural and isolated communities present unique barriers to the delivery of youth justice, isolated communities often have the added complication of poor roads, which make services less attainable. The delivery of fair and effective youth justice in rural communities is often directly related to the size, socio-economic health of the community, as well as the rural communities proximity to the nearest urban centre.
  • Despite the challenges, one probation officer painted a very positive picture of probation work in rural areas. He pointed out that probation officers personally know the community; the community supports their work; police are helpful; it is easier to get things done; there is often a stronger sense of "community"; the work is more independent and less bureaucratic; it is possible to have a real impact and affect change; and it is more satisfying work because of the variety and challenges. This respondent also believed that smaller communities provide a greater opportunity for victims to be involved and for their needs to be identified and addressed.

5.2 Isolated

  • Geography is the most serious and intractable problem facing accused youth, offenders, victims and the youth justice system in isolated areas and communities. Services often need to be flown in or clients flown out. Weather, the availability and capacity of airplanes and resources to pay for flights affect the capacity to overcome geography. Clients are often miles apart with no phones, no transportation and few workers to cover huge areas;
  • Isolation can cause extreme delays in processing from offence to disposition. This can have a detrimental effect on the offender's sense of responsibility and on the recognition and meeting of victim needs. This time problem also creates questions about the legitimacy of criminal justice. Lack of trained and qualified local people to supervise also means that orders are often not complied with;
  • Isolation can mean that young people are moved far from their own families and communities in order to receive services;
  • The quality and depth of services required for young people living in isolated communities are simply not available;
  • Where courts come infrequently to communities there is also a concern about the extent to which community members and young people, in particular, understand the function of the court as well as its presence in their community.

5.3 Aboriginal

  • Some respondents felt there were often problems specific to working in youth justice in Aboriginal communities. These include challenges for non-Aboriginal workers being accepted and working with Chief and Council; and the hiring of competent people;
  • Many Aboriginal "fly-in" communities are more prone than non-Aboriginal communities to the geographic problems because of break-up and freeze-up, including:
    • Isolated communities often do not have road access to urban services so services must be flown in which is costly and often untimely;
    • There are so many isolated Aboriginal reserves separated by vast distances it is difficult to determine where to set up new youth facilities and resource centres to make them accessible to these communities;
  • Even where court and social services exist, Aboriginal families are often so mobile that it is difficult to provide services to them and to get youth to court and to appointments;
  • Victim needs may be particularly overlooked on reserves because resources are poor and because power structures may affect the ability of victims to speak out and to have their needs met;
  • In some northern communities, victims (especial female and Aboriginal) have had to leave the community because the community supports the offender. This is especially problematic for victims who are not seen as full community members, or when the victim does not speak up because he or she is afraid to participate in sentencing circles or family group conferences;
  • Victims are often family members who continue to live together, which means that victim services that promote reconciliation and healing are critical but rarely available;
  • The use of alternatives such as sentencing circles may be more of a problem in Aboriginal communities when people feel pressured to attend and/or feel that the process is not fair because the relatives of the offender are involved;
  • It is difficult to find people to do supervision work on contract in small communities, where the pool of potential candidates often includes close relatives of victims or offenders;
  • First Nation communities have a right to Band Council Resolutions (BCR) which can ban people from the community; it may be difficult to reverse this order after the youth has been away for some time, even if he wishes to make amends;
  • High unemployment on reserves creates problems for voluntarism. It is almost impossible, in some communities, to ask people on welfare to work for the good of the community without any honorarium or remuneration, and if they do, some may be subject to criticism;
  • In some provinces like Manitoba, there are agreements with First Nations communities even though these may have to be tailored to communities; however, despite diversity, these communities all share problems related to a lack of resources, high unemployment and social problems;
  • There may be political issues with First Nations who are reluctant to have probation orders enforced or offenders supervised in their territories (applies as well to diversion and monitoring and supervision of conditional sentences);
  • Where Aboriginal governments exist there is not always an effective meshing of services. This was noted in parts of British Columbia , in particular;
  • However, it was also noted in British Columbia , that some Aboriginal communities are more organized and cohesive than others and have a better structure from which to provide services; there is also variability in volunteer networks.
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