Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Oct. 6, 2008)


Time to ID young offenders


  By John Martin

One much needed reform to our criminal justice system has finally been proposed during this under-whelming federal election campaign. Stephen Harper has indicated, and hopefully he means it, that a Conservative government would eliminate the legislation that automatically prohibits the media from publishing the identities of young offenders.

This has been a well intentioned, but bad concept, from the start. The idea of ensuring the public never learns the names of young offenders is based on the premise that it could further stigmatize and burden the offender. By announcing the young criminal’s identity, it is argued, we would be making it less likely the person could successfully rejoin their community as a law-abiding member.

There is absolutely no data or research to support this – none. It is merely a time-honoured hunch that has yet to be substantiated in even the slightest manner. The actual impact of shielding the identities of young offenders, and more likely the real reason many are adamant we continue to do so, is to spare the parents any embarrassment. While some parents have clearly exhausted any and every thing they can do to control their kids, we know this is not always the case. Many parents are clearly unfit for the responsibility of raising kids and are oblivious to the carnage, destruction and violence their sons and daughters engage in. These are the people who most benefit from gag orders.

One wonders how many parents would suddenly spring into action and concern themselves with their kids’ extracurricular activities at two in the morning if their names and addresses were published in the local newspaper. From the early days of a formalized system of law and criminal justice, it has been understood that to be effective, punishment should be public. Shaming and embarrassing the offender is a process that highlights the anti-social nature of criminality. It clearly announces that this behaviour is unacceptable.

By failing to publicize their identities, we’re creating an opportunity for the offender and his or her parents to pretend nothing happened. Anyone, especially a youth, can make a mistake. But how are we doing the offender, the family, or ourselves a favour by shielding a young recidivist who has been charged and convicted numerous times?

Parental neglect and inattentiveness is merely one factor contributing to youth criminality. Allowing the media to publicize the names of young offenders would be a powerful incentive to wake some irresponsible parents out of their slumber. A little humiliation for the youth and his or her family pales in comparison to the grief and pain suffered by countless victims of young offenders, so go easy on the sob stories. Why should we provide youth the opportunity to carve out a serious legacy of illegal behaviour with complete anonymity?

If Harper is victorious and keeps his promise on this pledge, my hunch is you’ll see a lot of parents taking a newly found interest in the comings and goings of their kids.

What’s so awful about that?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008