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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Youth tried as adults?

Hello, my name is Kimberly Post I am currently a first yeah Child and Youth Care student at Fleming College, I am doing a project for my professional practice regarding the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We are focusing specifically on should youth be tried as adults.

My question is "As a Child and Youth Care have you ever came across a crime where a youth has been tried as an adult, what where your feelings towards the verdict? If possible what type of crime was it?"

Thank you in advance
Kimberly Post

Hi Kimberly

It is certainly not an easy question and I am sure there will be as many opinions as there will be responses. Generally there is a good reason why children should not be tried as adults – they are not adults. Simple as that. As we know there are many developmental changes taking place for teenagers, physiologically, psychologically and socially, and teenagers do not reason the same way adults do. Therefore, any sentence for a criminal offence for a child or youth should take into consideration their level of development.

Of course, the justice system also has other considerations – the interest and protection of society in general, and the interest of justice which includes the nature of the offence. Therefore, justice officials will never have the same perspective as child care practitioners have – our focus is the best interest of each individual child, regardless of their behaviour, while Justice has a broader perspective and more "clients" to consider. It is the duty of the court to uphold the "good values" of society and protect citizens agains danger, especially when posed by someone who committed a crime.

I have worked in the criminal courts for a number of years, but of course these systems vary depending on the country you are in, so it is not always comparable.

While I think the children should not be tried as adults, I also understand why in some circumstances the courts may want to do that. I have worked not only with offenders, but also the victims of crime. Perhaps the question should not be so much whether children can or should be tried as adults, but rather to ask "under which circumstances" would children be tried as adults?

I think it is important to understand the context of each specific individual case. It is easy for me to generalise that children should not be tried as adults, but then I also know that there are always exceptions to the rule – you just need to find the "right" set of circumstances and then it is not so easy to generalise.
Sorry, not easy answers here.

Werner van der Westhuizen
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Dear Kimberley,

I sometimes wonder if we can be as precise as authorities seem to want to be about what does or does not constitute youth . I have pasted below a post from my Leaving Dundee blog which recounts the crime, the trial and the sentence meted out to Edward Woollard, a student in the UK. Edward, who was 18, was old enough to be tried in an adult court and he had committed a serious offence but still in my view this case exemplifies the way courts on the behalf society are part of a process which at best marginalises yout hand at worst, and all too often demonises them. Be forewarned the views I express on this matter may not be held by the majority of adults in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless I hope this excerpt may in some way be helpful towards your general discussion.

On January 11th, 2011 Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC handed down a "deterrent sentence" to Edward Woollard and sent him to prison for 2 years and 8 months. 18 years old Edward had acted dangerously by putting the lives of others at risk during a protest in London about a government decision to increase in student tuition fees. On November 10th, 2010 Edward threw a metal fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative Party's headquarters building at Millbank in London. The extinguisher narrowly missed falling on policemen and other protesters who were on the pavement and street below. The sentence the judge meted out to Edward was intended as a warning to others who might do something like this in the future.

Edward's impulsive and dangerous deed was outrageous but in essence it was impelled by the same overwhelming excitement which has induced innumerable young people to carry out potentially dangerous acts when for the first time they have become a part of the drama of what they believe is righteous protest. Peaceful protest is a right. Protest is also a part of the adolescent process so necessary for human development. Many of us, however old we are now, may at some time in our lives have experienced the feelings Edward was having that day, but we were lucky enough not to have our impulsive, foolish and at times dangerous acts discovered. Equally some of us may have been discovered but were fortunate enough to be responded to by thoughtful adults who forgave our trespasses with a stern warning and gave us the opportunity to reflect on just how stupid our actions were. For most of us this response worked.

That's why it is difficult to understand Judge Rivlin's harsh, not to say vindictive sentencing of Edward Woollard. Edward, it is generally agreed, has previously been of good character. He is not a hardened criminal. He is not even an experienced activist. This was the first protest he had attended. After the offence was committed Edward accepted the advice of his mother to give himself up to the police immediately. Since the event he has consistently expressed contrition for his act. Judge Rivlin says he took this into consideration but it does not seem to have engendered judicial moderation. For the next 16 months at least Edward will spend time firstly in a Young Offenders' secure unit and subsequently in an adult prison. Will this help him ? Will making an example of Edward stop other young people doing thoughtless and at times dangerous things ?

It is difficult not to conclude that Judge Rivlin's decision has shown that the political and financial powers will be defended at all costs. If you threaten them or act to question their legitimacy you will not deal with the scales of justice you will feel the sword of Damocles descended.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe

Hi Kimberly,

I am a Child and Youth Care who's title is forensic community support worker. In my role I assist youth who are medium to high risk offenders to access appropriate community resources and supports to address their risk and meet identified needs. I can recall over the past few years, one case where a youth had come through our services to be assessed according to section 34 of the YCJA. This youth had past trauma history and a very unstable childhood.

Without giving any identifying details this youth was from an ethnic minority community where disproportionate numbers of this ethnic group are over represented in the criminal justice system.
The verdict for this youth was that he was elevated to be tried as an adult and as such was found guilty and sentenced to adult time for murder.

Your questions regarding my feelings. I don't ever think that jail is the answer for anyone, considering how the system is set up. Statistics show that numbers as high as 75% of those incarcerated are living with a mental disorder. The YCJA was established on principles of rehabilitation, however in practice it does not function as it was designed. Many youth go in and out of youth detention facilities numerous times before the court and rehabilitation is barely a consideration. Rehabilitation can often be a very costly consideration especially for youth with complex cases (low income homes, communities infested with criminal activities, violence in the home, drugs, stigma). The sad reality is that these marginalized communities are often made up of ethnic minorities with hugh societal hurdles to overcome such as stereotyping and racism. In many cases justice is not blind and as a result ethnic minorities get longer and harsher sentences.

In my opinion youth should never be elevated into the adult system. Until our justice system adopts a framework of thinking which focuses on rehabilitation and adds the necessary resources to support rehabilitation; incarceration does very little other than to delay the unhealed offenders next offense.

James Hartley


I worked with a young man who committed a planned murder at the age of 16. He was tried as an adult, found guilty and sentenced as such. He spent his sentence from age 16-18 in a youth facility and when he turned 18 (or a few months thereafter as they were waiting for a cell to open in his gang block) he was moved to an adult facility.

He was not in a gang prior to going to jail. He joined a gang a couple months before being moved to the penitentiary because of his perceived need for 'protection' and he thought that he would not be 'initiated' as a gang member in prison the same way if he was already in the gang.

Do I agree with his outcome? I'm on the fence. Its believed that he likely suffers from FASD but he also had a very violent drug and alcohol fuelled upbringing and appeared at the time to be developing a significant personality disorder. There really was no place for him prior to his crime as it was. Unfortunately the prison system seems to be the best place for him to be. He has a stable home, he can get an education or trade, he gets fed. All things that were not happening prior to his incarceration.

Likely because of the suspected FASD he will never be able to be completely 'self-sufficient' as he would be expected to be should he had been tried as a youth and given freedom early (I think its 5 yrs for murder as a youth). Unless my province (I'm in Canada) does something to address adults and youth affected by FASD to ensure support throughout their lifetime, the best place for this guy is jail... And that's sad, but not uncommon for many incarcerated youth and adults.

If you don't know a lot about FASD I would suggest you look into it, the prison system houses a higher population of FASD affected individuals than any other institution (including the general public).

However that is the ONE specific case that I know about a youth being tried as an adult. I would have to consider on a case by case basis whether I would agree with a judge's decision to try a child as an adult or not opposed to making a sweeping judgement myself.


Dear Werner van der Westhuizen

I completely agree with what you have said, especially the fact of putting the best interest of the child first despite their behaviour. If a child gets charged as an adult then they will have to do time with adults, I can imagine that it would not be a safe situation for a child to have to deal with adult criminals. There definitely are children who commit serious crimes but support and treatment would be the best option so that child could possibly grow into a adult who makes better choices.Most people know once a person is prisoned then it becomes a normal part of their lives then they will grow into a more dangerous adult then they would have if they got the help they needed.


Dear Kristen

I agree with you on this one. The best interest principle applies to all situations pertaining to decisions affecting young people. Whether a child has committed a serious crime, international laws like the UNCRC and some cases, legislation does not see it fit and proper to try youth as adults. We do not want to imagine the horrendous experiences and unfortunate predicament that these young people can be faced with if put together with adults. If this was to happen, then it is almost guaranteed that a young person will leave prison more damaged than when he/she entered. This definitely is not what we want to see happening.

Vincent Hlabangana
South Africa

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