Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2000
Youth talk to youth about justice
Teens all ears when peers tell of life in jail
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
It probably didn't matter that Janice Bardestani of the Edmonton John Howard Society was telling the youngsters that crime doesn't pay. For many of them it was going in one ear and out the other. For others it wasn't even going in at all.
A couple of the girls in the front row didn't even stop with their chitchat long enough to listen to her mention that a criminal record, no matter how old you are, stays with you for a lifetime.
But when two youngsters, Brent and Ryan, stood in front of the crowd and explained to them how stealing cars, smoking drugs and doing all the things that so many teenagers look to as the cool, put them in jail and then the John Howard Society group home, the audience of 14- to 18-year-olds went silent.
"It doesn't matter what I say to them," said Bardestani, manager of the Howard House group home. "I'm an adult - they don't really care what I say. But they understand it when it comes from Brent or Ryan. They'll listen to them."
Brent, Ryan, and Bardestani were among a list of guest speakers at Caring for Our Communities, a student youth justice conference, hosted by St. Thomas More Junior High School.
The event, the first of its kind, said principal Doug Nelson, brought out several distinguished members of Alberta's law and justice community, including Justice Minister David Hancock, senior members of the Edmonton Police Service, and Joanne Goss, a provincial court judge.
More than 450 students from 17 junior and senior high schools from Edmonton and surrounding area participated.
The conference is ideal for this age group, admits Nelson, because it's a rebellious time in their lives.
"They feel things are being done to them. . . . They feel this imposed authority on them. They start rebelling against that."
The conference was not only an opportunity for students to hear the stories and about the workings of the justice system, but for them to also voice their opinion.
"It's really good for the justice community to see how they are perceived by the students," Nelson said. "We sometimes get so involved in our work, we don't see the forest for the trees."
Among the conference topics were gangs, alcohol and drugs, bullying, probation and legal aid for youth. Also included was a debate on changes to the Young Offenders Act by students from Archbishop MacDonald High School's debate team.
"I learned how easy it was for young offenders to get off," said Andrea Chrapko, a Grade 9 student. "I believe that we should do something to make it harder on them."
By understanding that, Chrapko said, "it proved that we've gained awareness in society today . . . this conference has given us that awareness."
Chrapko was among a panel that gave the thumbs up to the conference.
"This big group here will splinter out into smaller groups," said Bernie McGregor, chaplain at St. Joseph's High School who was also among the panel speakers. "With the smaller group, we can change our little corner - we can change the world."