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Human Rights

May 30, 2009 permalink

The Orangeville Citizen profiles Joe James. With his social worker hat, he separated children from families. With his policeman hat he arrested the parentless children who ran astray. With his probation officer hat he harassed the ones who were caught. Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson has the solution to the problems of young people: tougher laws and longer prison sentences.



Business aims to put troubled kids on right path

By DAN PELTON Staff Reporter, May 28, 2009

Stephanie Sabouni
SHARON BENSON, right, an expressive arts therapist, examines an "image" with Joe James at the grand opening of Justices Support Systems. Expressive arts therapy is just one of the offerings the business has to help troubled youth get through difficult times.

During a career that has seen him serve as a social worker, a police officer and a probation officer, Joe James has seen the consequences of troubled youth from practically every angle.

His experience led him to found Justice Support Systems, a private Orangeville agency with the primary aim of detecting troubled kids and nipping their problems in the bud before they blossom into something far more serious.

His outlook does, on occasion, put him at odds with those who advocate a "get tough on crime" approach which includes longer jail sentences for younger offenders.

"I'm all for harsher sentences for youth," explains Mr. James, "provided they have already had the opportunities to make some changes and has access to resources to meet their needs."

Justice Support Systems held the grand opening of its Mill Street location last Friday, but the business has been in operation since the summer. It offers communitybased, proactive youth service programs, as well as investigative and administrative services to law firms.

Among the most ardent proponents of tougher young offenders legislation is Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson, with whom Mr. James feels he must "agree to disagree" on aspects of this issue.

Mr. Tilson recently reintroduced his private members bill to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to have the name of a young offender be released if he or she has reached the age of 18 by the time of his/her trial or sentencing.

"I agree with Mr. Tilson's motivation and necessity to stir up debate on the issue of bringing about change in the YCIA," says Mr. James. "Secondly, I also agree that there needs to be more teeth put into the act. But (Mr. Tilson and I) may have to agree to disagree on where those teeth should be."

He says that the YCIA presently has intervention strategies, such as "restorative justice programs." Among them is a program wherein the young offenders are put in contact with the victim to develop both empathy and sense of responsibility for their actions.

"This is, in my opinion, a noble and desirable goal," says Mr. James, "and one that I do genuinely agree with."

Justice Support Systems, for example, has various programs to help their clients come forward and come to terms with their problems.

One of these is expressive arts therapy, where clients express themselves through the medium of art or, as expressive arts therapists prefer to call it, imaging.

"It is aimed at young people who need alternative ways to express their issues and explore what's holding them back," says Justice Support's expressive arts therapist Sharon Benson. "It's a way to speak without words. We're accessing their creative resources, rather than focusing on their dysfunction."

Mr. James, for his part, says he often takes his clients out of the office. "I sometimes take them out trail riding on bikes. You do whatever it takes to bring them out."

He concludes by stating that once such resources have been applied and the client still continues with criminal behaviour, then tough penal measures should be taken into consideration.

Until then, however, he cautions advocates of tougher, more rigid penalty phases that troubled youth are not confined to just one pocket of society.

"They could turn out to be your neighbour's kid," says Mr. James, "or even your own kid."

Source: Orangeville Citizen

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