The dire conditions faced by inmates at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre (RMYC) are likely to contribute to a cycle of violence, limiting opportunities for rehabilitation, says Toronto criminal lawyer J.S. Vijaya.
“Young individuals who are in custody are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society,” says Vijaya.
“One of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is the idea of rehabilitation for wrongdoers. This concept is particularly enhanced in the case of young people because they have not built up a proven track record of violence and criminality. There is supposed to be hope for these young people through education and behaviour modification programs so they can proverbially reset their moral compass and start over.”
The centre, Canada’s largest superjail for youth, is on the brink of a crisis, the Toronto Star reports, referencing a new report by Ontario’s advocate for children and youth.
About 100 youth were interviewed over a two-year period for the report, called It depends who’s working: The Youth Reality at RMYC, the Star reports.
Almost half of those interviewed commented on the excessive use of force by staff to de-escalate violent or aggressive situations, and more than 40 per cent said they had been physically restrained, the article says.
The report also found that rehabilitation and reintegration programs — one of the big promises of the jail when it first opened — are scarce, it continues.
“As a criminal lawyer, it is frustrating to report to a sitting judge that my client has not been able to take part in rehabilitation programs that are supposed to be available at RMYC, but in fact are not,” says Vijaya. “The culture of brutal violence and cover ups among the prison guards in our jails has already been reported by Ontario's ombudsman. Accordingly, the violence and related intimidation that is said to currently exist at the RMYC should not really surprise most informed Canadians.”
“Violence begets violence,” says Vijaya, noting it’s common for inmates to learn how to physically attack other individuals instead of being taught skills like anger management.
“In my view, the corrosive atmosphere of violence at the RMYC seeps into the personalities of the youths that are warehoused in that facility. The seeds of learned deviance and other social maladjustments are sown and constantly nourished. Ultimately, the negative learned behaviour openly manifests itself not only in jail, but also when these individuals leave the jails and live among us in our neighbourhoods.”
To believe in and fully embrace the model of criminal rehabilitation, says Vijaya, investment in education and related programs in jails is necessary.
“We must ensure that the behaviour modification and social adjustment programs that are supposed to be available at RMYC are in fact made available for them,” he says. “By paying mere lip service, and engaging in related apathy, we are ensuring that a subset of our society is doomed to constantly repeat the cycle of criminal behaviour.”