On June 20, 2017, Peacebuilders attended the official launch of Toronto’s new Youth Pre-Charge Diversion program at police headquarters.
Under the new program, police are encouraged to divert youth to community-based programs instead of charging them for minor offences. As Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders put it, “This program allows the service to identify young people who may be better served by community programs rather than criminal charges…Often the most effective service is better delivered in partnership with community experts rather than police alone.”
This initiative is an important step for the City of Toronto and the Toronto Police Service (TPS) away from the discretionary power of decision-makers towards genuine concern for young people. Peacebuilders, together with other youth justice and restorative justice organizations and advocates, has been working for over a decade to provide restorative, youth-focused programs to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. The TPS’s program adopts restorative practices and embeds them in official police protocols.
The new program complements Peacebuilders’ existing restorative justice programs by acknowledging the need to offer young people opportunities to work through conflict, take responsibility for their actions, and connect with community supports. The program launches in concert with Peacebuilders new Restorative Schools: Early Diversion and EJM Pilot Project. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Fund, Restorative Schools provides teachers, administrators, and police with training and resources to manage and defuse conflict that takes place on school grounds, thus preventing police involvement in student conflict. The pilot will launch at two Toronto high-schools in September 2017.
Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 20), a Youth Equity Champion, has been recommending pre-charge diversion since the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy (TYES) was adopted in 2014. Cressy advocates for better supports for youth who are most vulnerable to involvement in violence and crime and believes that pre-charge diversion is not only an opportunity for early intervention with young people who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system, but also an opportunity to connect these young people with community and peer supports.
We see too many young people further stigmatized by criminal charges—many of whom are already up against oppressive systems and challenging circumstances. Toronto police arrest approximately 4,000 youth every year. The program went live only a few days ago and has already had eight referrals.
We are looking forward to working together with the City of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service, and other community-service agencies to provide more restorative and supportive responses to young people in conflict.
Chief Mark Saunders speaking on June 20 about the success of diverting young people with minor charges out of the courts.
For more information about the program: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/youth-precharge-diversion-program-1.4169394
Peacebuilders is a non-profit organization based in Toronto that provides programs and services to young people and works towards systemic change. We use restorative practices to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, make our schools safer places for learning and development, and contribute to a more just and equitable society for everyone.
For more information about Peacebuilders, visit www.peacebuilders.ca
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