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Youth Crime in Canada
Functionalism is one of the most longstanding and best used sociological theories in this field. Essentially, functionalism posits the notion that society operates somewhat like the human body, with a variety of necessary functions and measures to enable it to reach a state of stability. Functionalism views certain actions and trends within society as indicative of overall aspects of the norms and values which drive it. It looks at corrective measures to some of these problems as necessary sanctions or "social control mechanisms which range from those "imposed informally -- sneering and gossip, for example -- o the activities of certain formal organizations, like schools, prisons and mental institutions" (McLelland, 2000). As such, there are several relevant points of application between functionalism and the issue of contemporary youth crime in Canada. Viewed from a functionalist perspective, it is quite clear that legislature enacted by the Canadian government following the advent of the 21st century helps to provide a necessary sanction on the incidence of youth crime by expanding such sanctions to include those which did not formally charge youths with crime -- although they still proved to be effective (Bala et al., 2009, p. 131).
As previously indicated, the functionalist sociological perspective considers society somewhat like a living organism based on the human body. For pragmatic purposes, then, functionalism sees society as operating based upon a variety of social control mechanisms which help to reinforce the particular mores of that society. There is generally a uniformity in the sort of values that a society considers part of its social conventions, which is usually aligned with its legal and criminal justice system. For instance, the values for which most functionalist theories are applied to, especially in contemporary times, are upheld by basic legal mandates preventing criminal acts. Such acts may involve stealing, substance abuse, and acts of violence committed without proper provocation (many of these acts directly relate to youth crime in a variety of societies.
The various social control mechanisms that enable a society's system to operate relate to its values in a variety of ways. They typically reinforce them in ways that are designed to have a positivistic effect on the society (can cite if you lie). The conventions that society is based upon are designed to reinforce those values, which typically involve keeping order and not harming others. Examples of such social conventions include training in school for aspects of life related to employment, academics, and basic social functions such as following rules and adhering to the sort of social codes that particular society embraces. The proper decorum for dining in public, for instance, is both implicit and explicit -- patrons realize there is a certain staid, orderly behavior that is required for them to fulfill a basic need of all humans in society: eating.
As identified in the introductory paragraph, however, there are also varieties of reform that operate as social mechanisms to help those individuals who are transgressing the values of any given society. Those sanctums involve both aspects of formal and informal behavior. For instance, when referring to the sort of social behavior that is required in public places, individuals must generally adhere to the legal conventions of the land. Certain forms of behavior -- which may be acceptable in a private space -- may be subtly manipulated or curtailed through any number of informal methods. If a domestic dispute erupts in such an atmosphere, surrounding people may show their disapproval by making comments, overtly stare at those involved in the dispute, ask them to stop, or use any other informal social behavior to discourage actions that are not only against the law, but a transgression for conventional restaurant behavior as well.
However, one of the most tangible indicators of social control mechanisms in a particular society are those for its criminal justice system. Such a system plays a principle role in the reinforcing of social values. In general, criminal justice systems serve two types of purposes when viewed through a functionalism lens. They help to protect members of society that regularly follow its social conventions and who may be adversely affected by those who did not. Additionally, they provide a means of correction for those individuals who have transgressed social and legal boundaries in their behavior. There are several instruments of the criminal justice system which impose sanctions on those who have transgressed the values and laws of a society. Some of these include jails, halfway houses, substance abuse clinics, as well as other instruments intrinsically related to the criminal justice process such as psychiatric therapy and reform schools. Functionalists claim that these various formal sanctions can help individuals whose behavior has exceeded the boundaries of society, by providing various means of reform such as classroom learning and education to time spent in isolation.
When attempting to view the situation of youth crime in Canada from the functionalism perspective, one must consider several facets both of the theory and its particular application to this theory. Functionalists would be cognizant of the fact that youth crime is a particular facet of society which operates somewhat of a test of the efficacy of its social control mechanisms. For instance, there are mechanisms from the general family structure and transmission of values from parents to children, to more formal institutions (including schools, community centers, religious temples, etc.) which are supposed to shape the mores of individuals to be attuned with that of the surrounding society. Young people, especially adolescents, are at a crucial phase in their cognitive and social development in which their values and relationship to society is still being formed. As such, it is not uncommon for people of this age to test the boundaries, and the repercussion for superseding those boundaries, in both public and private settings which may result in criminal behavior. Youth crime tends to be significant in a lot of places, including Canada. In fact, "On the whole, police reported rates of offending to be higher among youth and young adults…Rates tend to increase incrementally (among those aged 12 to 17, peak among those aged 18, and then decrease with increasing age" (Brennan, 2011). As such, there are several different ways of imposing sanctions that functionalists would utilize to explicate youth crime in this country.
Prior to discussing the stark variation in the sorts of methods used to correct youth who have been involved in criminal activities, it worth noting that there has been a general decline in the amount of crime committed in Canada. This statement certainly applies to the activity of youth offenders in the present decade. However, various changes in legislative policy in Canada has had a lowering of the incident of crime, which the following quotation proves.
Mirroring crime trends in general, the volume and severity of youth crime in have also been declining over the past decade. Between 2010 and 2011, both the youth crime rate and the youth CSI rate fell 10%. Since 2001, the youth CSI rate fell by
22% (same source).
In terms of youth offenders, the most substantial piece of legislative that affected their decline in criminal activity is known as the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which was implemented in 2003 (Department of Justice, 2013). This particular legal mandate called for a policy of leniency when dealing with criminal offenders in Canada. Instead of utilizing formal measures of rehabilitation (including incarceration, camps and other facilities available to youths after they have been arrested), the Youth Criminal Justice Act required law enforcement officials to utilize informal sanctions when attempting to conform these individuals to the accepted legal and social conditions of the country. It is worth noting that prior to 2003, however, law enforcement officials utilized and were encouraged to utile the aforementioned formal measures.
Viewed through the lens of functionalism theory, the government and formal social institutions of Canada devised a different strategy for employing social mechanisms to prevent (and ultimately reduce) youth crime. The social system operating in this country was plagued by youth offenders, who were more likely than more mature adults to engage in criminal behavior (can you cite?). In 2003 it responded with a more lenient and varied way to address this problem. Part of the reason for using informal as opposed to formal methods of imposing sanctions may be related to the fact that formal prison settings are better at fulfilling their first function -- to isolate the criminally active from society -- then they are at actually reforming these individuals. The scope and nature of youth crime, however, is related to the fact that young people are still developing their cognitive and social skills, and may be benefit from lesser used (and less severe) informal methods that could correct their social dysfunction and ultimately aid society at the same time.
A great deal of literature has been written on the sociological research addressing crime in Canada. Some of this literature pertains to the change in tactics from formal to informal ones to…[continue]
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