A disturbing report from inside the juvenile courts

Here is what the courts are doing—and failing to do—for kids gone wrong

JANE BECKER September 9 1961

A disturbing report from inside the juvenile courts

Here is what the courts are doing—and failing to do—for kids gone wrong

JANE BECKER September 9 1961

A disturbing report from inside the juvenile courts

Juvenile delinquencies rose 50 percent in Canada between 1956 and 1960

Expert critics charge that under an outdated Juvenile Court Act many courts are failing to do the job they were meant forreclaiming delinquent youngsters

Juveniles can be denied counsel, detained without hearing, and sentenced by unirained judges

Here is what the courts are doing—and failing to do—for kids gone wrong


DURING 1961 about 15,000 Canadian children will pass through a fifty-year-old paradox known as the juvenile court. They’ll be there for everything from murder to being “unmanageable.” Most will be booked for theft or breaking and entering, which together account for more than half of all juvenile delinquency charges brought each year.

All but a few will be adjudged de```linquent. Of these, the majority will be released on probation. A few will be reprimanded, about 2,000 fined, another 2,000 sent to training schools — an Ontario youth who carved up his grandmother while she was baby-sitting is now in training school, as are two boys who recently landed in the Federal Training Centre at St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary in Montreal, one for breaking a window in his own house, the other for stealing a carton of Coca-Cola.

The proportion of youngsters who appear in juvenile court more than once — repeat offenders — is still approximately what it was in 1912, between twenty-five and fifty percent of the total. Last year fifteen percent of the inmates of Canadian penitentiaries had been in juvenile training schools earlier, and nearly a quarter of the penitentiary population was under twenty-one.

The numbers of juveniles adjudged delinquent, and of serious crimes among juveniles, have been increasing drastically during the last eight years. In 1959 the number of delinquencies was nearly double the 1954 figure, and within seventy-five cases of the all-time high of 11,758 delinquencies reported in 1942. When figures are finally added up for 1960, they will almost certainly record a new alltime high.

Uneasy over these figures, a substantial number of police officers, court officials and welfare workers across Canada now say that the juvenile court system is failing to do what it was really intended to do: help youngsters to stay out of trouble and rehabilitate the ones who don’t make it. In the last few years, we’ve revised the Criminal Code, revamped the parole system, introduced a degree of hope into jails

and penitentiaries and moved closer to eventual abolition of capital punishment. Yet in many respects we still deal with juveniles, who, it's agreed, are hardly ever confirmed or incorrigible offenders, almost exactly the way we did half a century ago.

In many parts of Canada, particularly in small towns and rural areas, a juvenile can lose his freedom and get nothing but an education in crime in exchange. In a haphazard succession of arrest, trial and disposition a boy whose offense is refusing to obey his parents may land in training school, from which, in the opinion of many probation officers, he usually comes out with far stronger criminal impulses than he took in. In other areas he can be a confirmed shop thief before anyone bothers to do anything with him at all.

Although it is against both the spirit and the letter of the federal statute dealing with juveniles, children are occasionally held in jail to await trial in at least one Ontario city, and in many rural areas from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island.


Adult offenders, by the ancient right of habeas corpus, are generally granted a court hearing the day after they are taken into custody. But juveniles can be, and sometimes are, detained in a cell or detention home for several days, until the juvenile court in the area holds its next hearing. In rural districts this may be only once a week. A youngster is frequently held while evidence is gathered for a trial — anything from one to several weeks. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics reports that about ten percent of all juvenile offenders in 1959 waited a month after being charged for a hearing, though the number actually detained in jail cells for this length of time is probably not nearly so high.

With the hearing over, a youngster sentenced to training school is, in several provinces, as

likely as not to be confined with mentally retarded or incorrigibly criminal fellows. In Ontario, for one, the training schools are often so crowded that every time a new inmate arrives, an earlier arrival has to be released to make room. Elsewhere, the “training” schools give little or no training for any trade that might help a warped youngster straighten out and earn his own living. Ciirls at the new Manitoba Home for Girls arc taught ballet, but not how to type.

Canada’s legal framework for dealing with kids gone wrong is the well-meaning, loosely written Juvenile Delinquents Act, first drafted in 1908 and barely touched for 32 years. Its underlying philosophy is that “the care, custody and discipline of a juvenile delinquent shall approximate . . . that given by its parents”; and that, “as far as practicable,” every juvenile delinquent shall be treated “not as a criminal but as a misdirected and misguided child . . . needing aid and encouragement.” Judge Lome Stewart, of the Toronto Juvenile Court, calls it one of the finest children’s charters in the world. Other countries still write to Canadian courts asking for information on which to base similar statutes. But in practice, the charter leaves serious loopholes. Manitoba corrections director A. J. Kitchen calls it “hopelessly outdated in places,” and many other court officials agree. In Montreal, Social Welfare Court Judge J. J. Penverne calls the juvenile court “the most important court in the province.” Yet. he adds, conditions in the Montreal juvenile detention home are as bad as in Montreal’s notorious Bordeaux jail.

Legally, there is nothing to restrain police officers from taking a youngster into custody without notifying his parents; using his statement to the police as court evidence though no adult was present when it was given; and bringing him to court where there is no one to speak for him but a probation officer, who may never have seen him before. The judge may feel that a youngster needs psychiatric examination, but if his parents object the judge cannot enforce his 'CONTINUED ON PAGE 55



A boys’ prank with railway flares started a $50,000 warehouse fire. The owner couldn’t collect a cent.

decision. A juvenile may have his case adjourned without disposition, as about twelve percent are each year. But because he is nonetheless a delinquent he can be recalled to court anytime until he is 21, and treated or sentenced without a chance to give evidence on his own behalf.

Under Section 9 of the Act, a juvenile over fourteen accused of committing an indictable offense can have his case transferred to adult court, but there is no clear stipulation as to when this should be done. Depending on the discretion of the judge, one 15-year-old accused of murder may be tried in juvenile court and sent to training school; another, up for breaking and entering, may go to adult court, thence to jail or a reformatory.

It isn't only juveniles who are affected by loopholes in the Act. One section, for instance, deals with contributing to juvenile delinquency, an indictable offense which can be charged against an adult. It carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and two years in jail, and cases are

usually heard in juvenile court. Because — except in Quebec — juvenile court judges need not be lawyers, and the Act makes no mandatory provision for prosecutor or defense lawyers it is quite possible for an adult to be tried, convicted and sentenced on this serious charge, with no one with any legal training present. This would be unheard of in an ordinary criminal court. (A juvenile court ruling can be appealed but seldom is, perhaps because most people aren’t fully aware of their rights.)

On the other side of the ledger, an ai ’» who has suffered damage by juveniles isv likely to get compensation. Juveniles can be fined more than $25 under the Act, and their parents can't be ordered to pay unless it is proven the parents contributed to the offense by neglect or some other established fact. A warehouse-owner in Wentworth County, Ont., recently saw his shed and contents burned to the ground after some youngsters planted railway flares along the warehouse ledge. He couldn’t collect a cent from the boys or their families, although the damage was $50,000.

In twenty-five full-time juvenile courts and scores of part-time courts across the country, hard-working juvenile court judges also bear the onus of both prosecutor and defense lawyer. About thirty percent of all juvenile cases are heard in small towns where a regular magistrate may double as juvenile judge, or a part-time judge (he may be a retired school teacher or clergyman) hears a few juvenile cases a week. Court facilities are often “nonexistent or woefully inadequate," in the words of one judge, who surveyed the situation in Ontario, and court itself is liable to be held in any vacant room the municipality can get rent-free.

Within a few minutes, the judge in many cases must decide which of several dis-

parate stories is true; calm outraged complainants and distraught parents; try to see that legal rules of evidence are followed; yet treat each child as an individual needing his own kind of treatment. The judge know's that, no matter what he does, about

ten percent of the children will be back in court within a year. Up to half will return at least once while they are still juveniles, some fifteen times. One third will violate probation, and, in some provinces, about forty-five percent of those sent to train-

ing school will get into trouble later A. M. Kirkpatrick, of Toronto, chairman of the Canadian Corrections Association. says, “the weaknesses in our methods of dealing with delinquents are often se-

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rious. Many police officers are interested only in apprehending, rather than handling juveniles. In many places there is inadequate provision for custody, study and treatment. Probation services are frequently understaffed and probation officers sometimes untrained in child behavior.”

British Columbia corrections director E. G. B. Stevens says that “far too large a proportion of adult criminals have passed at an earlier age through juvenile court.” A series of articles in the Winnipeg Free Press early this summer called Manitoba’s policies and programs for juvenile offenders "medieval.” the Winnipeg detention home “disgracefully inadequate," and Manitoba juvenile court judges "political appointees who regularly try to treat emotionally disturbed children with an eightminute lecture from the bench.”

Though only about one case of juvenile delinquency in five ever gets to juvenile court, many experts believe far more juvenile offenders should be dealt with informally. by police juvenile bureaus, probation officers, and foster homes, instead of by courts. "We don’t do this, simply because we haven’t the staff,” according to a probation officer. "After all, it’s much easier to put a kid in a detention home and let the court deal with him, whether or not this is best for the kid.”

The average Ontario probation officer has about sixty children to keep tab on, although the efficient maximum has been set at thirty-five. W. T. Little, social services director of the Toronto Juvenile and Family Court, says about twice as many children could benefit from foster homes, "but hardly anybody wants to take a chance on a delinquent youngster.”

Lacking such a chance, a delinquent youngster’s future may parallel that of an habitual criminal named, for this article, Ned Malone. Malone was picked up in British Columbia and charged with theft and truancy when he was eight years old. He was put on probation. He turned to breaking and entering and was sent to training school. On his release he became involved in a series of car thefts, was sent back to training school, released, turned to housebreaking, appeared in magistrate’s court, and was put on probation again. He wasn’t yet 16. Later he turned to drugs, and was sent to Oakalla prison farm for robbery. On his release he took part in an armed robbery and is now in penitentiary.

“This man should have been sent to a home for disturbed children,” says Harry Robson, a Vancouver probation officer. "But there is no public institution of this kind in the province, and private ones are far too expensive.”

Unlike an adult court, few people not intimately connected with juvenile court know what goes on there, and they haven’t much chance to find out. In a sweeping interpretation of the Juvenile Delinquents Act. which seeks to protect children from publicity by providing that hearings be held in camera, the majority of juvenile courts prohibit not only the public but all outsiders, and all reporters, from juvenile cases. Thus, breaches in legal procedure, cases of slipshod handling or inadequate disposition of juveniles are seldom, if ever reported, unless some court official talks out of turn — at the risk of losing his job. (To sit in on the Toronto juvenile court, in assembling the facts for this article, it was necessary to get permission from the Ontario attorney-general, which was given only on the understanding that the judge would be shown relevant parts of the article before it was printed. Judge Hugh Arrell, of the Juvenile and Family Court of Wentworth County, Ont., on the other hand, maintains a reasonably open court, admits reporters from what he considers

“reputable" newspapers on certain cases, and some others with a special interest in social work. But this court is the exception rather than the rule.)

The Juvenile Delinquents Act wrote in a safeguard against excessive secrecy by providing for a juvenile court committee of interested citizens, appointed by the court, to attend hearings and advise the court on its methods of handling delinquents. In fact, not many courts have such committees.

Nor is there as complete information on juvenile delinquency as the courts, enforcement officers, and even the public really need. There are only estimates, for instance, of the number of children held in jails before trial instead of in regular detention homes. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics, in its latest report, had no information at all on about a third of all juvenile cases, and labeled them simply “informal” cases. The same sketchiness extends to research on delinquent behavior. Depending on whether the crime rate stays steady or keeps rising, there will likely be between 14,000 and 18,000 juvenile convictions in 1966. “Yet in Canada,” says D. W. F. Coughlan, Ontario’s direc-

tor of probation services, "We’ve done no research into the causes of delinquency. It’s the most important lack in all our services for juveniles.”

Probably the chief bar to any kind of consistent handling of juvenile delinquents over the years, however, has been the constitutional division of provincial and federal responsibility in making and enforcing laws. Here, the law relating to juveniles is unique.

Although the federa’. Act deals with delinquency as a crime, it isn’t part of the Criminal Code, and thus can't become law in any province unless that province first proclaims it — either provincialiy or for a particular district — then passes a provincial act setting up juvenile courts to administer it.

In parts of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the federal Act is still not in force. Juveniles in these areas can be. and are, tried in adult courts and sentenced to jail, a situation termed "astonishing.” by the Fauteux Committee inquiring into Canada’s remission services in

195`6. Some provinces also skirt some of the requirements of the federal Act by writing overriding clauses into their own laws. In this way they can avoid providing special detention homes for children, for iastance. by allowing the provincial attorney-general to name any place — such as a cell of the county jail — a detention home. In Ontario. British Columbia and New Brunswick, the juvenile court setup is even more complex because municipalities therg must pay the costs directly. No town gets a court unless it asks for it. and the task of overcoming public apathy is often long and discouraging.

The provinces haven’t even agreed on w'hat a juvenile is. The Act sets no mini mum age. and while most judges don’t hold hearings on children under eight, it’s possible to be found delinquent, and even sent to training school, at seven or under. There were 19 seven-year-olds declared delinquent in 1959, according to DBS.

In British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, the maximum age for a juvenile is 17. In Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland it’s 16. In Alberta girls under 18 and boys under 16 are juveniles, while in the rest of the country no one is a juvenile unless he’s under 16.

This is what can happen to a 16-yearold in a province where 15 is the maximum juvenile age. At 15. a boy from an “extremely troubled” home in Ontario, came up in juvenile court for a minor misdemeanour, and was put on probation. Some time later, in an accident at home, he was severely burned and went to hospital. Chafing under hospital routine, he stole some clothes and walked out. “Because he was by now 16 he was charged in adult court, convicted, and sentenced to six months in jail,” the boy’s probation officer says. “Yet. in everything except calendar age, he was still a child. His

mental age was about 11. As a juvenile, he’d probably have been given a renewed term on probation, which would have been far better treatment for him.”

On the other hand, B.C.. Manitoba and Quebec courts, staggering under a load of juvenile highway infractions, armed robberies and drunkenness, would like to be

able to transfer more cases of 16and 17year-olds to adult courts. “Some juveniles of 16 and 17 must learn to accept their responsibilities,” says B. C. corrections director Stevens.

Saskatchewan has probably traveled farthest toward the welfare approach to juvenile crime. A report on every juvenile

charged by police goes to the provincial child welfare branch before the court hearing. Court is generally held on branch premises and, if a child is found delinquent, the case is adjourned while a branch social worker prepares a report on the child’s background. This becomes the basis of treatment or punishment when the case is reopened. Saskatchewan doesn’t charge juvenile girls, except in extremely serious cases handled in adult courts, but turns them over to child welfare authorities directly, where they may be declared neglected and made wards of the province.

In Ontario about forty percent of all cases come before the Juvenile arid Family Court of Metropolitan Toronto, which began operating in a gleaming new' $2,000,000 building four years ago with five judges, a 130-member staff including psychiatric specialists, and high hopes for the future. Last year it handled 2,700 children. One of them was a 12-year-old named, for the purposes of this report, Frederick Small. A few' months ago police in Fred Small’s district began catching him with small articles which had been reported missing by neighborhood shops. They warned him that more thefts would mean juvenile court. A few days ago, a neighbor reported his car broken into and several articles missing from the glove compartment.

Police traced the theft to Fred Small. They charged him formally and notified his parents. Because they weren’t sure whether they could count on him showing up in court next morning, they brought him to the court detention wing, a reasonably attractive, maximum-security children’s lockup in the court building. Fred was shown to a small, brick-w'alled room u'ith a high window, a bed and small chest, where he spent the night.

In the morning he was examined by a

medical doctor (on part-time service to the court) and just after 10 a.m. was taken to the courtroom. There were few people in the sombre, wood-paneled room: only the judge (a kind-looking man in a business suit), a policewoman, the clerk of the court, a probation officer, one or two welfare workers who w'ere involved in cases still to be heard, and Fred’s mother. The youngster walked to the foot of the raised desk behind which sat Senior Judge Lome Stewart, who is considered by his colleagues to be one of the country’s best juvenile court judges. The policewoman stepped into the witness box, was sworn, and began reading the police evidence against the boy.

“Is this right, Freddie? Did you do these things?” the judge asked when she had finished. (Children are seldom put on oath, although all evidence against them must be sw'orn.)

Fred said he had. In the part of town where he lives a lot of boys do the same kind of thing. He hadn’t realized there was much wrong in it. The judge asked Freddie a few more questions. Then he asked Mrs. Small if she could help. She said this was the first she’d heard of her son’s stealing.

Since there was no doubt about the thefts, the judge decided Fred was a juvenile delinquent within the meaning of the law, though he didn’t say this. He remanded the boy to the detention wing for a week, to give court social workers a chance to try to find some clues to his trouble.

For the next several days Fred played games with the other boys in the wing, sometimes outside in the walled courtyard. He read comics, watched television at specified times, and did craft work in the detention workroom. Here the craft teacher kept a close watch to observe how he

worked and how he got along with the other boys. She reported her findings to the supervisor. Fred was tested by the clinic's psychologist, and had several counseling sessions with the detention wing supervisor. Meanwhile a probation officer called on Fred's parents and talked to his school teachers.

The next week Fred came back to court. The judge nowhad reports from the probation officer and the court clinic staff in front of him. Fred’s father, the judge learned. isn’t home much and his mother, with four smaller children to look after, hasn't much time for the boy. But the judge saw no sign of serious trouble, either in Fred’s personality or in his environment. Fie decided to dispose of the boy the same way he disposes of the majority of his cases, by putting him on probation and assigning him to a probation officer. Fred went back to the detention wing to pick up his things, and the probation officer made a date for their first meeting.

How w'ill it work? No one can be sure. Though this one juvenile court spends more than $600,000 a year in an effort to help Fred and families with other domestic problems, the Toronto court doesn't pretend to have all the answers. It’s already met. and hopes it has solved, one serious situation involving the whole philosophy of handling delinquent youngsters.

When the Metro court was set up in 1954, a full psychiatric clinic w'as one of its aims. It hasn’t yet been able to keep one long. In the last three years two clinic directors and six assistants have resigned. The court is now convinced that the reasons for their dissatisfaction -— which were largely bureaucratic — have been overcome.

Dr. William Blatz, a Toronto child specialist, serves the court as consulting psychiatrist. He estimates about 300 children

get intensive psychiatric investigation each year. “There is ample room for more psychiatric help." he says. Dr. Elizabeth Govan, a lecturer in social work at the University of Toronto and one of a twomember team which in 1959 reported on Toronto juvenile court services for the attorney-general, is more vehement. "If a judge uses a court clinic’s knowledge only to make his own decision on a child’s future, the clinic in fact is only being used for diagnosis, not treatment," she says.

Police forces in several metropolitan areas have formed youth bureaus to deal with troublesome youngsters before they reach the courts. Special officers are assigned to juvenile work, and detailed records on all juveniles who come to notice kept. “Now' we can tell at a glance if a kid has been in trouble before and can do something with him before it’s too late.” explains Det.-Sgt. James Patterson of the Hamilton Youth Bureau.

Alberta now deals with juveniles through a special branch of the attorney-general’s department. Ottawa has begun working w'ith predelinquents in antisocial street gangs. Montreal’s Police Boys Club, modeled on the New York Police Athletic League, organizes games and tournaments for delinquent and potentially delinquent youngsters.

We are building some new' training schools, with some separation of incorrigible youngsters from the others, and specialized treatment for them. Montreal will open its new maximum security institution. Le Centre Ferme, next year to funnel off some of the 400-odd boys now' in jail or penitentiary because no juvenile institution is adequate for them.

At its national congress this spring the Canadian Corrections Association resolved to make a fresh approach to the department of justice on its long-ignored brief to

revise the Juvenile Delinquents Act, and asked the department to help with a nation-wide survey of juvenile facilities. The Ontario Juvenile Court Judges Association is also considering submitting its own revision of the Act.

Court reformers are pressing for area courts in rural districts, each with a fulltime staff, detention home, and some of the other facilities of city courts. The idea is getting a sympathetic hearing, though how soon anything will be done is an open question.

Most realists don’t expect that crime, adult or juvenile, will ever be wiped out. “But," says the Corrections Association’s president Kirkpatrick, "We are at last

waking up to the fact that we can do something to control lawlessness among youngsters. It will mean more tax money to improve public facilities, more private donations to organizations already working with children, and more effort by everyone in giving constructive leadership to the sort of child who breaks a window or steals a car in order to get attention from a largely indifferent world.”

It should be worth our while, he adds, for delinquency is fast becoming one of the major social problems of the day — "the kind of problem that has a habit of walking out of the text hooks or the newspapers and down our alley into the house next door.” ★