Juvenile delinquency is a term used to describe a broad set of illegal actions by underage individuals. This phenomenon varies in severity from minor offenses like school absenteeism to crimes such as burglary and even murder. Just like in the case of any other crime or misconduct, a legal offense by a minor cannot go unaddressed, and justice should be executed. However, the minor age of an offender often generates controversy and leads to a dilemma whether he or she should take full responsibility for their actions even if it means that their future might be compromised.
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One of the reasons contributing to such confusion is the lack of consensus as to at what age a person gains autonomy in making decisions. This paper will examine the issue of restorative justice for underage offenders from the Canadian perspective, discuss contributing factors to juvenile delinquency. The case of Warren Glowatski will also be provided to showcase restorative justice in action.
The Case of Warren Glowatski
One of the cases that attracted much media scrutiny was the murder of Reena Virk in 1997. Before her death, Reena Virk had often been bullied and ostracized in her community since she belonged to numerous social groups considered “minority.” The girl was from an immigrant family from India and practiced Jehovah’s Witness’s religion despite living in an area predominantly inhabited by Sikhs. At one of the school parties, Reena Virk, who was only fourteen, was attacked by a group of six, among which was Warren Glowatski. First, the perpetrators hit and punched Virk, and then, as she tried to escape, they followed down to the river. Under the bridge, the beating continued, and later, according to some, she was drowned whereas according to the others, she was dumped in to the water while unconscious.
While each of the six teenagers was complicit in this heinous crime, Glowatski and Sim (Ellard) were found to be the main perpetrators. In 1999, Glowatski was found guilty of second-degree murder and received a life sentence. However, since he was underage, he was eligible for applying for early release after seven years. Glowatski’s first attempt to get early release was unsuccessful; however, as he expressed deep remorse and reconciled with the Virks, he was released on full parole in 2010 (The Canadian Press).
Such a court decision may appear reasonably controversial: after all, no matter how much Glowatski regretted partaking in the murder of Virk, his repentance could not bring her back to her family. Nevertheless, the murdered girl’s parents stated that Glowatski took full responsibility for his actions and deserved to be set free.
Pros and Cons of Restorative Justice
The murder of Reena Virk opened up a dialogue about many things that had remained unspoken and unaddressed in Canadian society. Among other issues, the crime gave rise to conversations about the possibility of restorative justice for juvenile delinquents, even if their crimes may be as serious as rape or murder. The issue of restorative justice is incredibly complex, and it is possible to outline both advantages and disadvantages of giving a person a chance to repent.
On the one hand, putting restorative justice in action may prevent or reduce repeat offending especially when it comes to serious crimes. Some practices within restorative justice allow the accused and the victim to meet face to face. It is argued that during this process, the offender may realize the gravity of what they committed and how much suffering they caused. At the same time, the victim may recover from his or her trauma through reconciliation and coming to terms with what happened.
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On the other hand, some people claim that restorative justice is only applicable in the case of petty crimes. In the case of a criminal offense, there should be a lot of scrutiny as to whether the offender belongs in society. Furthermore, it is nigh on impossible to predict whether the offender truly repents for each person’s psyche operates on its own rules. Admittedly, both opponents and proponents could agree that combatting consequences is not enough, and underlying factors should be examined.
Factors Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency
To execute restorative justice towards underage offenders, it is essential to understand factors contributing to their deviant behaviors. One may contend that punishment alone does not solve the problem even though it may show the offender that he or she is on the wrong path. However, once they served their sentence, be it real or suspended, they might fall back into the bad pattern if the factors that contributed to their downfall in the first place are not eliminated. Children and teenagers, however mature they might appear, are highly gullible, hence, requiring their parents or legal guardians to build protective barriers and provide a more secure environment. Thus, parental figures should be aware of the primary motivation behind delinquent behavior to address the issue promptly.
Poor school attendance is recognized as one of the top factors contributing to abnormal behavior development in minors. When a child fails to learn how to be disciplined, he or she is losing out on an opportunity to acquire good habits such as time-management and communication. The poorer the school attendance, the more chances such a child receives to be introduced to a dubious and potentially dangerous lifestyle outside his or her home and school environments.
More often than not, it is not only a child’s inability to adjust to school routines but also the discouraging school milieu which results in school absenteeism. For instance, overcrowded and underfunded schools often lack order, and if a child is detached from his or her peers or, what is worse, bullied, they may soon become an outsider and seek recognition elsewhere. The situation may be aggravated further by violence at home and substance abuse.
Nowadays, some people claim that in case a minor commits a crime, legal measures against him or her should not be strictly punitive for he or she deserves redemption and integration into society. One of the cases that started a dialogue about restorative justice in Canada was the violent murder of Reena Virk by her school peers, one of which was later released on full parole. The situation was outstanding since Virk’s parents reconciled with the murderer and recognized his reformation.
The ability to repent and reinvent oneself in restorative justice may prevent subsequent crimes. However, it is not certain whether restorative justice applies to all cases. One of the workable solutions could be examining underlying motives for adopting a deviant lifestyle among which are poor school attendance, violent environment, and substance abuse.
The Canadian Press. “Reena Virk Killer Warren Glowatski Granted Full Parole.” The Canadian Press, 2010. Web.