(Manitoba Public Insurance)

Manitoba youth corrections uses a four-point scale of risk when assessing inmates — one that may confuse and confound teen car thieves who are ranked on a similar numerical scale.

At the Manitoba Youth Centre, being a ‘Level 1’ is bad — you’re a badass, causing all manner of safety concerns for staff and other inmates. ‘Level 4’ is good — almost perfect in terms of compliance with rules, regulations and other requirements in a jail.

According to the WATSS program [the auto-theft strategy that’s all but vanished from public discourse these days] — Level 4’s are the worst of the worst chronic car thieves who even steal cars to get to probation meetings or court appearances.

It’s an irony that struck me during a short court hearing today — for a 14-year-old boy who is the youngest criminal member of Winnipeg’s most chronic auto theft family to now appear on the Winnipeg crime scene.

His brothers and cousins have caused all manner of destruction over the years, using stolen cars as weapons — it’s a minor miracle that nobody died in their hayday.

The eldest sibling racked up more than 80 convictions between the ages of 12-18.

As one Crown attorney once put it:

“There isn’t a courtroom big enough to fit all their victims in”

But for the teen in question: Car theft ain’t his thing, despite seeing virtually every relative he’s ever had develop a penchant for stealing Honda Civics and minivans constantly.

Instead, this kid helped others knock over a 7-11. He held guard at the door while a helpless clerk was threatened with a machete for a meat Taquito and some cash. I made up the Taquito part.

At the time of the robbery, he lived with the matriarch of this crime family (who noisily cracked a piece of gum throughout the hearing), but her “circumstances” have now changed to the point that the only option he has is either living with his dad or staying in jail.

Today, he got a sentence of three months time served (at 1.5 times credit) and some probation for the store knock-over. Now, he returns to the public to serve that probation and live with dad.

“I’m not going to tell you not to hang out with your brothers,” Judge Roller told him today. “I am going to tell you to not become like your brothers,” she said. 

Well, barring some probation-department miracle, what real chance of that is there? I wondered to myself.

This is his life. His main influences are a screwed up family of seemingly remorseless criminals to guide him.

“I don’t want you to grow up like your brothers,” the judge said. “I don’t want you growing up in the youth centre … (or) Stony Mountain.”

The judge isn’t to blame here, and I’m certainly not attacking her reasonings. Under the YCJA, she couldn’t hold him in custody even if she felt it was warranted.

But the kid, however, ironically, is a ‘Level 4’ in terms of the youth jail’s scale. The exact opposite of the influences he has on him while not in the clink.

That, as described above, is the best there is. He’s co-operative, attended school and does extremely well with structure and guidance.

The judge readily admitted that his ‘outside’ circumstances and family life likely mean he’s going to have to govern himself if he’s going to stay out of trouble.

“It sounds like you’re going to have to be more responsible for yourself than other kids might be,” she said. “You’re going to have to take care of yourself better than you have so far.”

Her hands are tied, as I’ve already said. It is forbidden to use the YCJA or the justice system to deal with child-welfare concerns (but CFS does it all the time).

How fair is that to him, I ask.

Regardless of what he’s done or what family he comes from, he is still just a kid, a product of his environment.

And while it would be equally criminal to suggest that keeping him in a structured, stable environment where he can succeed, I can’t help but wonder if we as a society are doing him a disservice by not.


4 thoughts on “The other ‘Level 4’s’

  1. oh James, you’ve touched a nerve 🙂

    This is why I’ve always fought so hard for my kids. They are kids. They really don’t have as much control over their lives. Look at him- mom is clearly at odds with the system and has no respect for it- his whole family has no respect for it. So how is he ever going to learn to respect the system? Judge Roller is an AMAZING youth court judge- one of my favourites, as she still understands that kids are kids. She can’t give the kid a new family. She can’t undo the YEARS of harm that the family has brought upon the kid, and the environment he has to return to. And he’s not even the worst that I’ve seen- not by a long shot.

    LOTS of kids do great at MYC but awful ‘on the outs’. Let’s consider: at MYC, there is always someone there to talk to- not just other residents, but the staff are usually willing to listen to you talk as well. You always get three square meals a day. You get a room to yourself, and you don’t have to worry about someone coming into your room to hurt you at night. The power is never cut off. You always have clean clothes. You have structure, and people care. For SO many kids- jail is better than home. And what does that say about our society, when we only ensure kids are looked after when they’ve committed a crime?

    And I’m certainly NOT advocating for putting more kids in jail, or taking them away from their families. Kids always cry for their parents. Even the worst parents, they want to be with- they want their family. Taking kids from families rarely makes anything better. (Example- remember ‘Tina’? Who’s mom didn’t call her for the first two weeks she was in jail? The only place Tina ever wanted to be was with Mom. At least when she died, Mom was there. But, had mom been more involved, Tina might never have overdosed in the first place.)

    Residential schools weren’t awful just because of the abuse- when you remove a generation and institutionalize them from a very very young age, they don’t learn how to raise a family. Keeping kids in jail may help the kid- but only while he is in jail, and it will never teach him how to live in a family environment. It’s sadly artificial.

    I don’t think there’s an easy solution- showing parents how they should raise their kid is not something easy to do. And being a good parent is not something that is common sense- it is taught. If your parents were drinkers who ignored you, you might be better than they were, but that’s not often good enough to raise a happy well adjusted socially adapted child. I’m all about social bonding theory.

    I would love it if we could do more legislatively with the parents of kids who become problematic. But, when the parent doesn’t comply and goes to jail, it’s still the kid who suffers.

    More people need to quit advocating for keeping kids locked up, and spend more time volunteering with at-risk and ‘problem’ kids. It’s only when the kids have faith they are capable and deserving of better, that they will actually be able to overcome their problems.

  2. We can’t let the age of a violent offender (sorry to all of the liberals out there; but auto-theft is a violent crime) determine whether they should be held in closed-custody or be permitted to roam the community, committing more violent acts.

    The particular family James speaks of is nothing but garbage. I’m very familiar with them and the crime they’ve caused in this city. The whole family is rotten to the core. If the kid wants to succeed in life, he’s going to have to completely sever any ties with that pathetic excuse-for-a-family and move somewhere else in Canada and start a new life. I’m not kidding.

    Serial car-thieves should be locked up indefinitely and be given the Dangerous Offender status. They can’t commit crime and maim people if they’re not a part of society.

    Dr. Gerrard of the liberals says we need more money invested into social programs/community centres. Sorry bud, but community centres aren’t open at 3:15 a.m. — when these creatures are roaming the streets because they’ve slept all day and dropped-out of school. They’re just losers, plain and simple. No game of Frisbee or Tidley Winks will fix their FASD brains.

    Another excellent post, James.

    1. Mcleod, you’re pushing the typical conservative “reactive” solution. Sure! Let’s lock everyone up forever!

      How about we be proactive? Stop these kids from turning into hardened criminals, exactly what is going happen if they are locked up.

      The tinge of privilege in your post is disgusting. Please read Belle’s post if you want a history lesson on why you are so very very wrong.

  3. Dave, to be completely blunt with you: I have no sympathy or hope for them these offenders. They’re just losers. It really is that simple. You can’t fix these kids. Their culture, environment, parents and everything they find fulfilling in a day is self-destructive. They make conscious decisions when they act-out violent fantasies. It’s not my responsibility or desire to give these kids a hug or take them for ice cream. Do you have any street experience in dealing with them or observing the violence they carry out?

    As for privilege, I’m confused as to what you’re alleging. I’m not sure about you, but I work for a living. I’m entitled to feel safe in my community and not have to worry about being victimized by FASD retards. Is that something I’m not entitled to? Everyone is entitled to that. Even you.

    It must be tough living life through the liberal-guilt goggles you wear; try looking out for yourself and your family, rather than being concerned about something you cannot and will not change on your own. I encourage you to get some street experience, beyond reading the sanitized press stories and coming up with all of these “feel good” solutions. They do not and will never work.

    Why not ask the son of Zdzislaw Andrzejczak (killed in Dec. 2009 crash involving a stolen vehicle) how many hugs he thinks it would’ve taken to prevent the death of his father that day. The convicted killer — Mark Rodgers, received a seven-year sentence. Hardly a deterrent to other level 4 pieces of trash out there.

    When a violent offender impacts your family in this capacity, your tune may (hopefully) change. Jail for criminals. They are not entitled to live among us. But you know, they’re all in-the-process of “turning their lives around.”

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