By Adam Lake
Adam Lake is a senior at York University specializing in Sociology and completing a certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice.
The criminalization of minority youth in the Canadian justice system is often ignored (Ming Kwok et al., 2017, p.15). There are a wide range of effects related to race, which demonstrate that even though Canadians live in a racially diverse nation, certain communities are marginalized. There is a different type of treatment that person of colour face when dealing with the entire range of Canada’s juvenile justice system. Racial imbalance within the juvenile justice system is existent when the percentage of individuals from a specific racial group is greater than the amount of other racial groups, in the general population. This can lead to disparity. Disparity within the justice system can refer to a situation where individuals from different ethnic groups have different perspectives on certain outcomes, which can turn into overrepresentation of the justice system.
One can state that unwarranted and illegitimate forms of racial disparities within the juvenile justice system results from differential treatment that some individuals face, due to their ethnicity. This could include overt forms of discrimination, as racial imbalances result from individual or institutional forms of race-based discrimination. Racial discrimination can also be based on the racial identity, ethnic identity, and gender. The racial imbalance within juvenile facilities is treated as a predicament, at best as a consequence of the cultivation of impoverishment (Kishna, 2014, p.3). Maureen Kishna completed a study on combatting racial disparities within the juvenile system, stating:
There is an imbalance in our nation’s juvenile justice system that is not a secret known only within communities of color. The painful reality that many families have perceived and grappled with is that black and Latino youth are more likely to be arrested than their white peers. This has been well documented over the years. Black youth are less likely to be diverted, more likely to be sentenced to secure facilities and even more likely to be transferred to the adult system. Disparities exist at nearly every point in the juvenile-justice system (Kishna, 2014, p.2).
Racial imbalances can differ based on different levels of criminal activity within the criminal justice system. It is important to include racial imbalances within this important subject because racial imbalances challenge the values and beliefs that the justice system rests upon. It eliminates equal justice for everyone, as the justice system becomes fairer. When the physical nature of discrimination is ignored within conversations about the rising rate of incarcerated youth and delinquency, it serves as a presumed Negro domination on law breaking (The Sentencing Project, 2008, p.12). Due to a disproportionate amount of racialized youth within juvenile facilities, it can be noted that racial imbalances are now consequences of overt bias within the criminal justice system. As long as racism is in existence in society, it will continue to permeate within the juvenile justice system. In order to address, reduce, and eliminate overt forms of racism that are overt and subtle, one needs to understand racialization. Racialization is the process or act of treating a person, relationship, or group differently through racial terms, as their abilities and values could be different from yours. Liberal and Conservative leaders alike create governmental and social policies that do not pay attention to racialized individuals in conflict with the law, that lead to a disproportionate number of identifiable groups within correctional facilities (Tanovich, 2014, p.5). These racialized “criminals” are not given a chance and have not received an answer for the racial repercussions of over and under policing.
There are major disparities when it comes to delinquency and the involvement of racialized youth, in comparison to White youth within the juvenile justice system. When one looks at the disproportionate rate of ethnic representation, it can raise various questions in regards to fairness and equality by individuals who are connected to the juvenile justice system. The courts, police, and other institutions should be questioned about their association with racialized youth and the consequences that could occur for the future. In various parts of the world, society takes for granted that racialized and marginalized youth who commit serious crimes will be classified as criminals under the juvenile justice system. Rankin and Winsa (2013), stated within their article entitled “Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails” that:
“Young black men face racism, poverty, lack of opportunity, social isolation, violence in their neighbourhoods, family challenges and unemployment. Once these men are known to police, systemic issues stack the deck against already disadvantaged groups, say academics and a library of past research, including the 1995 Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System” (Rankin and Winsa, 2013, para. 23 & 24)
Minority youth who are politically powerless within society and who are victim to criminalization within the youth justice system in Canada do not have the resources to fight injustices. Individuals within the justice system use their power to support the idea that they are control agents, who then have power over racialized communities. Victimization of minority youth shows us that an individual’s ascribed status affects their interactions in the justice system. Anti-racism examines the power imbalances between racialized people and non-racialized/white people. These imbalances play out in the form of unearned privileges that white people benefit from and racialized people do not (McIntosh, 1988). Since racialized communities face higher contact with the justice system, there are increased amounts of unfairness and injustices. It does not make race relations any better between the justice system and racialized minorities, as a large proportion of the organizations identify as the dominant. It creates a minority-majority conflict, as justice system dynamics impose control over racialized minorities.
Kishna, M. (2017). Racial Disparity in the Juvenile Justice System: MST’s Response. Case Western Reserve University Journal,1-25. Retrieved March 02, 2018.
Ming Kwok, S., Heavyshield, H., & Weatherstone, R. (2017). Supporting positive outcomes for youth involved with the law in Ontario. YouthRex,1-39. Retrieved March 02, 2018.
Rankin, J., & Winsa, P. (2013, March 1). Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails. The Star. Retrieved March 05, 2018.
Tanovich, D. “The Charter of Whiteness: Twenty – Five Years of Maintaining Racial Injustice in the Canadian Criminal Justice System.” Supreme Court Law Review, 2008, pp. 1 – 32. Faculty of Law, University of Windsor. Retrieved from JSTOR. Web. 19. Oct. 2014.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Rennett Stowe
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