Social Interventions: Rehabilitation

Canada has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the Western world – higher even than that of the United States.1 On any given day over the past five years, there have been approximately 3,500 to 4,000 youth in custody across Canada.2


For many youth, incarceration seems to only worsen delinquency. Previous incarceration is the most important determinant of the likelihood of being sentenced again, says Saskatoon lawyer Kearny Healy. His book, Tough on Kids, offers evidence that youth are likely to be pushed further into delinquency as a result of their experiences in jail.3

A report for the Solicitor General Canada found that incarceration produced a 3% increase in recidivism, and a 6% increase when the incarceration was for longer periods.4

By contrast, community rehabilitation measures can have a positive impact. In Massachusetts, the Commissioner of Youth Services closed all the youth custodial facilities between 1970 and 1972. Instead, they worked with community partners to provide mentoring and skills programs for youth. A Harvard University study concluded that in districts where these reforms were followed, youth crime was reduced by 30%.5

Canada has recently taken steps to decrease its youth incarceration rate, and instead to offer community resources to guide youth away from a life of crime. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which came into effect in April 2003, obliges police to take alternative measures – such as issuing a caution, or referring youth to appropriate programs – before they proceed to an arrest.6

The stated aim of the Act is to address the circumstances which underlie youth crime, and to rehabilitate offenders. To fulfill this ambitious mandate, the Act will require substantial government and community-based resources. Discussions on the impact of the YCJA can be found in "Youth Criminal Justice Act" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin No. 8, and in the Saskatoon Roundtable on this subsite.

Where incarceration is necessary in order to protect the community, there is some evidence that it can be devised in such as way as to decrease the likelihood that a youth will re-offend. Winnipeg community worker Art Shofley points out that some custodial facilities offer constructive help to youth – but others are brutalizing (see Winnipeg Roundtable). Joan Winchell, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peel, worries that the new mega-jails "will seriously disrupt the community-based programs that Elizabeth Fry Societies rely on to keep women from becoming ingrained in the criminal justice system" (see "Community Alternatives in a Conservative Era" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin No. 6, 2003).

Other Social Interventions

  Addictions Treatment
  Countering Violence
  Early Childhood Education
  Positive Parenting
  Secondary Education
  Special Needs Programming


1 Department of Justice Canada. Youth Sentencing. See

2 Department of Justice Canada. Youth Justice Renewal. See

3 Healy, K. and Green, RG. Tough on Kids. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Limited, 2003.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6Department of Justice Canada. Youth Criminal Justice Act. See