Set Up For Failure? Understanding Probation Orders and Breaches of Probation for Youth in Conflict with the Law
Pulis, Jessica Elizabeth
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This dissertation examines probation for young people in Canada. Ninety percent of all young people sentenced in Canada receive a non-custodial or community sentence, with probation accounting for the majority (91%) of community supervision admissions (Munch, 2012). However, little is actually known about the judicial use of probation, the conditions that are imposed as a part of this sentence and, more importantly, what factors are associated with breaches of probation. Breaches of probation, have historically been and continue to be significant pathways back into the youth justice system, especially incarceration. Using informal social control theory (wider social processes – family, school and peers) and an integrated sites of oppression lens (an analysis of marginalized populations) this research explores the factors that influence the nature and extent of probation sentences and if there is disparity in the use of probation sentences for female and Aboriginal youth. This dissertation reports on a province-wide investigation of a sample of all Ontario youth sentenced to probation (N=6051) in 2005 and 2006, using data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. This research also explores a sub-sample of youth on probation who were charged with breach of probation (N=255) during the period of study. It appears judges use probation conditions as a means to mitigate informal social controls that may cause delinquency (e.g. poor parenting, school failure, delinquent peers). Little support was found for the hypotheses that girls would receive particular conditions (curfews, residence orders, non-association orders) because of gender bias. Girls were more likely to receive shorter sentences of probation, which is interesting given that they are more likely to be given probation for violent offences. An examination into the impact of race on probation sentences revealed the need for further investigation into judicial decision making with non-custodial sentences. Results of the analysis of the breach of probation data indicate that regardless of the commission of a new offence (in addition to a breach or breaches of probation) non-compliance with previous dispositions, like probation, remains a significant pathway back into the youth justice system. Girls, younger youth and Aboriginal youth are all more likely to be charged with breach of probation. Breaching conditions of probation may be unrelated to the original offence (for which the young person received probation) and may be connected to wider concerns about protection and social control. Marginalized youth, in particular, who breach probation, are significantly more likely to be charged by police and receive custody. The aim of this dissertation is to provide a comprehensive understanding of probation and probation violations and broaden the scope of our knowledge of probation. This research adds both empirically and theoretically to the current body of research on youth sentencing in Canada.