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Action Plan

Helping Youth Realize Their Potential at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre
March 2010


Background

Youth in conflict with the law have very different needs from adults. That is why Ontario created a new youth-centred correctional system devoted exclusively to the needs of youth in conflict with the law that is separate and apart from the adult system.  As of April 1, 2009, all youth being held in custody in units located in adult facilities were moved to dedicated youth justice facilities that meet their unique needs.

Ontario’s goal is to reduce the chances that a youth in conflict with the law will re-offend. The province’s youth justice system is designed to rehabilitate youth while holding them accountable for their actions. It offers secure and open custody, as well as a broad range of community-based alternatives to custody, including diversion from court, rehabilitation, probation and supports for mental health and behavioural issues. Studies show that providing youth in conflict with the law with meaningful supports and services, while holding them accountable for their actions, helps to steer them away from crime, make better choices and lessens the likelihood they will re-offend. Today less than seven per cent of youth in conflict with the law are placed in secure custody and detention facilities.

The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, like others across the province, was designed and built specifically to meet the needs of youth who must be held in custody.  These young people need high-quality services and supportive environments to achieve success and make better choices when they leave. Youth placed in these secure custody and detention centres have the opportunity to form positive relationships and benefit from specialized programs that will help them leave their criminal past behind and return to their communities better prepared to make the right choices.  Staff are involved in a form of supervision known as “relationship custody” where they enforce rules and procedures as well as coach, mentor and engage youth in decision-making.  Positive staff and youth relations help increase safety and reduce negative behaviour by youth both while in custody and after they leave.

Opened in May 2009, the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre can accommodate 192 young people, 160 males and 32 females, who are in conflict with the law and who were between the ages of 12 to 17 at the time of their offence.  Youth started to arrive in July 2009. The unique campus-style layout allows youth to experience as normal a daily routine as possible in a secure facility. The centre also provides opportunities for youth to participate in specialized programs and activities delivered in classrooms, a trades building, a non-denominational multi-faith centre and recreation areas, including a sports field.

Context for Action

On average, about 100 youth are admitted to the centre each month. Of these, about 40 percent are in the facility for less than a week.

Meeting the complex needs of many of the youth, including mental health, substance abuse, gang involvement and other issues presents many challenges.  Staff face particular challenges meeting the needs of youth placed in custody for short stays because there is little time to form meaningful relationships or to provide effective rehabilitation. 

This Action Plan brings together the resources, training and programming needed to ensure that the goals and objectives of the relationship custody approach are achieved, while protecting youth and staff safety, and preparing youth to make better choices when they return to their communities.

Helping Youth Realize Their Potential

When it comes to youth in conflict with the law, Ontario’s primary goal is to provide these young people with the supports and opportunities they need to succeed and realize their full potential. Youth in custody often have complex needs such as mental health and substance abuse issues, and problems managing anger and conflict. Many have never developed positive relationships with family or peers and have been drawn into criminal and gang activity.

Developing positive interactions between staff and youth and providing effective supervision and good living conditions supports youth and staff safety, and helps steer youth away from crime when they leave.

Education, rehabilitation and recreation

The centre has a range of education, rehabilitative and recreation programs in place to help youth become engaged, develop positive relationships, complete high school credits, learn new skills and get involved in activities that will help them lead more productive lives when they leave.  Measures in place include:

New Measures

To provide more opportunities for youth to learn, resolve conflict, turn their back on criminal activity and stay active and engaged, over the next six months the centre will introduce:

Ensuring Positive Staff and Youth Interactions

In addition to providing secure supervision and a safe environment, staff at youth justice facilities are there to support and encourage youth to participate in programs and activities that will help them make better choices when they leave. Staff also serve as coaches and role models, must be good listeners, committed to working with youth with complex needs and to building positive relationships.

The centre has 266 permanent staff. Staff who are trained to deal with the needs of youth in conflict with the law include youth services officers and managers, social workers, psychologists, nurses and recreation officers. Supporting staff in developing and enhancing their skills contributes to safety and youth success.  Measures in place include:

New Measures

To support a safe environment and the consistent enforcement of rules and procedures by staff who are dedicated to helping young people, over the next six months the centre will:

Working with Community Partners

Bringing partners from the community into the centre to participate in programs and activities increases youth awareness of the community around them and provides opportunities for skills development that benefit youth when they leave. Measures in place include:

New Measures

Tracking Progress

In order to be effective, the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre must track and monitor its outcomes. The new measures outlined in the Action Plan will be regularly monitored to ensure they have been fully implemented and that they are achieving the intended outcomes.

Tracking progress at the centre helps to identify areas that need further work. It also ensures that any concerns raised by youth, staff or through the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth are addressed in a timely manner.

The centre continues to meet regularly with the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth to address concerns about living conditions and safety. A new Youth Liaison Officer ensures regular contact with the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Youth can now register complaints verbally and in writing. Written complaints are reviewed by managers daily. As well, Local Employee Relations and Health and Safety Committees have been established for staff to raise concerns and offer potential solutions to issues.

Actions taken as a result of assessments of each individual unit have helped to improve living conditions and increased consistency in the way rules and procedures are enforced.  A comprehensive staffing review assessed scheduling practices and the resources required to get youth to programs, family visits and activities. As a result, 48 new staff will be hired, including managers who will increase supervision of staff and reinforce consistency.

Indicators are now in place to regularly track:

As new programs are implemented at RMYC, participation by youth will be measured and programs will be evaluated for effectiveness. Youth will be given the opportunity to anonymously assess their experience of programs.

With these new accountability and monitoring measures in place, the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre will continue to make the necessary changes to ensure youth and staff safety, while working to achieve better outcomes for youth.

Conclusion

Youth in custody have diverse needs, but they should all expect to be safe, to be offered the opportunity to be engaged and to learn. All youth at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre will eventually leave custody, returning to their communities and often their friends and families. It is in the interest of youth, and the interest of society, to do our best to help youth make better decisions when they leave RMYC, so that they don’t return. Achieving this end requires effective supports when youth are at RMYC, as well as assistance in their transition back into the community.

Ontario has made significant progress in developing its youth justice system over the past few years, but there is more to do. This Action Plan seeks to take the next important steps forward by working with youth, staff, and community partners to fully implement the vision and goals of relationship custody at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre and help youth realize their potential. It also recognizes that in order to be successful, the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre must monitor and track its progress, so that program gaps can be identified and addressed on an ongoing basis. By working together to rehabilitate youth in conflict with the law, while holding them accountable for their actions, they will be less likely to re-offend and society as a whole will benefit.