Community-Based Interventions for At-Risk Youth in Ontario under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act: A Case Study of a "Runaway" Girl

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article presents findings from ongoing research on interventions for violent and at-risk youth in Ontario through partnerships authorized under Canada's Youth Justice Renewal Initiative (YJRI) and the 2003 Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), its cornerstone (Canada, Department of Justice 2003a). These policy initiatives institutionalize a "preventative partnership" (Garland 2000) strategy aimed at reducing overreliance on the justice system by shifting responsibility for preventing and responding to youth crime "and its associated risks" to communities, families, and individuals. Situated broadly within a neo-liberal/advanced liberal approach to governance, the YCJA is shaped by Canada's participation in a global trade in policy ideas and technologies of implementation that is reshaping juvenile justice, crime prevention, and social welfare across Western jurisdictions (Edwards and Hughes 2005; Feeley 2003; Garland 1996, 2000; Hughes and Gilling 2004; Leonard, Rosario, Scott, and Bressan 2005; Muncie 2005; Newburn 2002; O'Malley 1999, 2002; Pratt 2001; Schofield 2002; Shaw and Andrew 2005; Stenson 2002, 2005). In this article, we address the promises and challenges of Canada's effort to implement this "new" approach, as exemplified in community responses to the needs and situation of a 16-year-old Ontario girl (pseudonym "Connie") who "ran away" from an abusive home at age 15.

Our analysis of this case draws upon interview data from two qualitative research projects. The first is the study in which Connie participated, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)-funded project on intervention partnerships and their impacts under the YCJA and the larger YJRI. (2) The second is a much smaller university-funded participatory action research (PAR) project on youth in the sex industry, (3) which focuses specifically on problems faced by youth involved in prostitution, stripping, escorting, massage, and related "sex work." (4) In both projects, our principal methodological tool is semi-structured audiotaped interviews, thematically analysed by the four-member research team that co-authored this article.

We use Connie's story to exemplify themes and concerns that recur throughout our interview data to date (n = 47 staff; 35 female youth and 50 male youth--21 female youth and 44 male youth from the SSHRC project, and 14 female youth and 6 male youth from the PAR project). Specifically, we use Connie's account of her struggles since "running away" from home to demonstrate how victimization, child protection involvement, and vulnerability to criminal activity are linked and how efforts to address these adversities in schools, child-protection agencies, and social-welfare agencies do and do not foster YCJA goals. As outlined in the Preamble to the YCJA, these are "to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, to respond to the needs of young persons, and to provide guidance and support to those at risk of committing crime."

Our analysis draws broadly upon governmentality discourses on advanced liberal governance, a perspective informed by Foucauldian understandings of the ways in which competing, contradictory, and inevitably contested constellations of knowledge, interests, and actors shape governance strategies and their implementation at the present moment (Garland 1996, 1997, 2000; Rose 1999, 2000a, 2000b). This perspective acknowledges structural constraints of increasing political, economic, and cultural global interdependence; technological change; economic restructuring and the associated inequalities. However, it also recognizes political agency and, thus, "the concurrent existence of competing, multiple, publics" and "competing sovereignty projects" (Edwards and Hughes 2005, 356). Perhaps most importantly, it sees an array of "hybrid" (O'Malley 2002) alternatives that meld neo-liberal economic strategies and rationalities with neo-conservative (exclusionary) and/or social-democratic (inclusionary) aims (see also Hannah-Moffat 2000, 2005; Muncie 2005; O'Malley 1999; Schofield 2002; Stenson 2002, 2005). …