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If We Are Tough on Crime, If We Punish Crime, Then People Get the Message: Constructing and Governing the Punishable Young Offender in Canada During the Late 1990's

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2005 Pages: 73-89
Bryan R. Hogeveen
Date Published
January 2005
17 pages
This article explores how a punishable young offender was constructed in contemporary political and media discourse in Canada.
Throughout the late 1990's, Canadian politicians and the public debated solutions to the problem of youth crime, thereby creating, the author argues, the notion of a punishable young offender. This punishable young offender sprang forth as a result of the omnipresence of the serious violent offender in political and media discourse and as a result of the work of victims’ rights advocates. The problem of violent youth crime continually made front-page news during the 1990's, pervading the collective consciousness with both fear and contempt for youthful offenders. As a result, a new ethic of punishment was ushered into Canadian society that called for protection for the public from youthful offenders. The Federal Government was propelled to replace the existing youth justice legislation, notably the Young Offenders Act (YOA), with a tougher legal framework grounded in “accountability.” Thus, the newly created punishable young offender has become manifest in and governed by increasingly punitive punishments that include high rates of youthful incarceration. One particularly disturbing outcome is that disadvantaged youth, particularly Canada’s Aboriginal youth, are disproportionately being punished in this highly punitive manner. It remains to be seen whether the tide of justice will return to gentler times when societies attempted to rehabilitate young offenders; currently in Canada the term “justice” is synonymous with punishment. References