Posted by Bill Egnatoff, Rotary Club of Cataraqui-Kingston

Doing Time in Kingston: Youth Justice Then and Now

Doing Time in Kingston: Youth Justice Then and Now is a collaborative venture of the Rotary Clubs of Cataraqui-Kingston and Kingston, but the success of the program is due in large measure to the support of sponsoring clubs, the high caliber of students they send, and the excellent team of resource people. This year, the program inspired 17 high school students, ranging in age from 14 to 19, to do more of what some of them are already doing—to support their peers in ways that keep them happily engaged and out of trouble. The program gave them specific ideas for youth advocacy, for helping youth, and for possible career paths related to youth justice.
The program demystified the whole youth justice system, enabling participants to see what steps can be taken to redirect youth. They read about actual cases of children and youth who had been imprisoned and how they were treated. They saw how relevant legislation had evolved over the past two centuries and how laws are made. They learned of current innovative youth justice programs run by the Kingston Police, Youth Diversion, Queen’s Family Law Clinic, and the Canadian Families and Corrections Network. Through their visit to the Kingston Penitentiary and the Penitentiary Museum they have a sense of prison life and how it has evolved.
Every aspect of the program was steeped in history. The program began in Memorial Hall in Kingston's City Hall and ended in its Council Chambers. Participants were served a typical Victorian prison meal, prepared and ate a similar meal, and succeeded at a highly engaging group problem solving activity, an Improbable Escape as a group of miscreant cadets locked in the basement of Murney Tower.
Participants now understand the difference between justice and punishment and that there are many paths to justice for youth. They felt it was cool to know that the world is not against them; instead, it wants to show them the right way, but society is still learning how to do that. The two Rotary Youth Exchange students from Brazil and France felt they could bring the thoughts generated to their own countries. Participants saw how inadvertently excluding or ignoring others whose behaviour is undesirable just perpetuates that behaviour.
Based on the recommendations of the participants, the program will continue annually at the same time of year on variations of the youth justice theme and will be extended to four days.