The other ‘Level 4’s’

(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.

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