On Watch

Second Chances

Posted: Apr 9, 2013 11:10 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 9, 2013 11:10 AM ET

Going to youth court can be a pretty depressing experience, especially if you're a parent.


You don't have to be a parent of one of the accused; if you've got kids, it's just sad to see how a life can spiral out of control at such a young age.

One of the worst words  for me to hear in youth court is the word breach.  It's legal jargon, short-hand for breach of conditions. It means that person has already been given a chance at freedom, and blown it.

Usually the conditions are pretty straight-forward and start with wording like "keep the peace and be of good behaviour."


When someone is charged with breaching their conditions, you can almost hear a baseball umpire shouting "strike two."

Except in youth court, you almost never hear the ump call strike three.  The system isn't set up that way.

While deterence and denunciation are key elements of sentencing for adults, they don't enter into it for young offenders.

In youth court, it's all about second chances.  There are very rare exceptions.  Take Melvin Skeete and Archie Billard. The fact I can write their names here shows that occasionally, even the seemingly-endless patience and indulgence of youth court can be exhausted.

Archie Billard, for those of you who don't remember, killed Theresa McEvoy while driving a stolen car.  He was just 16 at the time and had racked up numerous charges, but few convictions.


Melvin Skeete was also only 16 when he stabbed his girlfriend Brittany Greene to death.  

Both Skeete and Billard lost the privacy protection of the Youth Criminal Justice Act because of the seriousness of their crimes.  They both took a life.


But the case of another convicted killer is more typical of the way youth court operates.

The teen in this case --  a lanky, clean-cut 18-year-old --  killed 70-year-old Glen Oakley in what Judge Anne Derrick described as an impulsive act.

The teen was carrying a sawed-off .22 calibre rifle, intending to rob a convenience store to support his drug habit.  Instead, he shot Oakley as the man was out for his regular evening walk.  The teen returned later and stole Oakley's bank and credit cards.


All of this was in November, 2011.  The teen has spent the time since then in the Waterville Youth Detention Centre.  Judge Derrick ruled that the youth did not intend to kill Oakley that night, so she convicted him of manslaughter instead of murder.


Just last month, Judge Derrick sentenced the youth to 20 more months in the Waterville jail.

This is where the second chances really come in.

He won't spend 20 months in a jail cell, marking time.

First of all, the youth is supposed to complete the high school education he abandoned before grade 10.  He's also going to be in a program with therapists, doctors and counsellors to fundamentally change his behaviour.  It's what's known as an intensive rehabilitatitve custody and supervision sentence.  It's all about second chances.

But Judge Derrick isn't leaving things to chance.  She's summoning the teen back to court in September to see how he's making out.


Judge Derrick is also urging corrections authorities to keep the teen in Waterville even after he turns 20, the age when youth are traditionally transferred to adult jails to serve out the balance of their sentences.


Judge Derrick warns that such a transfer could undo all the work of the rehabilitative sentence. 

hether he stays in Waterville will depend a lot on the teen himself.


If he becomes a disruptive influence in the youth jail, as one of the oldest and biggest inmates there, off to adult jail he goes.  He's managed to avoid being disruptive up to now.

Once he's released from jail, the teen must serve another 16 months under supervision in the community.


Again, Judge Derrick is trying to prevent the youth from returning to his criminal behaviour.  She's suggesting money be found to help the teen's family relocate out of Spryfield; the neighbourhood where he's made all his criminal connections.

Once he's released from jail, the teen must serve another 16 months under supervision in the community. Again, Judge Derrick is trying to prevent the youth from returning to his criminal behaviour.

She's suggesting money be found to help the teen's family relocate out of Spyrfield; the neighbourhood where he's made all his criminal connections.

A lot of time and effort, by a lot of people, are being spent on giving this youth a second chance. If he squanders this opportunity, it's a safe bet the courts will call Strike Three on him at that time.


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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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