MONCTON, N.B. - New Brunswick's Child and Youth Advocate says greater investment in community-based approaches to youth crime reduction will reduce the number of young people behind bars and save money in the long run.
Norm Bosse makes 10 recommendations in a report released Wednesday entitled More Care Less Court.
"The preamble to the Criminal Youth Justice Act says that members of society share a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons and to guide them into adulthood. That doesn't seem to be happening here in New Brunswick," Bosse said in an interview.
Bosse stated in his report that in 2013-14, children as young as 12 were sent to the detention and secure custody facility in Miramichi, N.B., for pre-trial detention.
"Prison is no place for the positive development of a 12-year-old," Bosse wrote.
Bosse said there needs to be more training for people who deal with troubled youth, including police officers, lawyers, probation officers and judges. He said they could be holding case conferences to find ways of dealing with young offenders that doesn't result in putting them behind bars.
He said government should not be using criminal prosecutions to access mental health services for young people. Instead, he said lawyers should ask judges to order referrals for assessments related to learning disabilities and mental health issues.
Bosse said there are currently 25 to 30 New Brunswick youths in custody at any given time.
"If we use the act correctly the number of incarcerated youth will diminish. There should be five to 10 youth incarcerated at any one time," he said.
He said youths who are awaiting sentencing or to be dealt with in youth court for minor offences should be kept in the community, and not held in detention. He said the exception would be cases where there are allegations of serious offences.
Incarcerated youths are currently held in a facility in Miramichi that is shared with adult female inmates, but Bosse says that needs to change because youths are not supposed to be held in the same facility as adults.
Other recommendations include the development of specialized youth court services such as the appointment of an itinerant youth court judge, specially trained youth-specific duty counsel, Legal Aid counsel and Crown prosecutors.
Bosse said government has been receptive to the recommendations and he's hoping changes can be made over the next couple of years.
In a statement, Justice Minister Stephen Horseman said his department has not had time to review the final report.
He said he supports the creation of a committee consisting of relevant departments to study the report and respond to the recommendations.
-By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton