DO DRUGS PUT YOUTH BEHIND BARS?
The results of abusing drugs come in many forms ranging from health problems and changes in social behaviour, to ending up behind bars. While there are assumptions made in all of these areas regarding the exact outcomes, there have been studies conducted that explain the truth. It has been proven that there exists a connection between drug use and crime among youth. It is important to note that there are other factors not to be forgotten when making that link, such as living conditions, socio-economic factors and cultural background. Understanding the connection between drug use and crime among youth is crucial in deciding on appropriate efforts to prevent such an outcome.
Extensive research on drug abuse and its correlation with crime has been conducted across Canada, with certain areas showing more activity than others. The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut demonstrate a significantly higher rate of drug use and youth delinquency than do other parts of Canada. It was found that 38% of male Aboriginal offenders abused alcohol, whereas 16% of non-Aboriginal males abused alcohol. Justice Canada reported that 57% of Aboriginal youth in custody had a substance abuse problem.
Certain drugs contribute more to criminal activity than others. Research performed by Pernanen and colleagues identified that in Canada, psychoactive substances had a high correlation to the excessive amount of criminal behaviour among youth. There can be many reasons for these findings. Psychoactive drugs, as well as others, alter a person’s perception of reality and can blur the line between right and wrong. A youth under the influence of a substance is at a serious risk of becoming mentally and physically impaired, resulting in criminal behaviour.
Drug addiction is a significant precursor to criminal activity. Youth who don’t have the cash to feed their addiction sometimes resort to illegal behaviour. Common methods of obtaining drugs include shoplifting, prostitution and breaking and entering. Youth can also risk serious consequences from drug dealers, possibly by not paying their debts on time.
Communities that have a high population of youth can experience a significant number of drug-related crimes. Youth are more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour than are adults. Youth lack a fully developed brain and many don’t have a complete sense of self, resulting in poor decision-making and risky behaviour. Rates per 100,000 people for drug-related violations in 2002 were highest for individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, followed by 12- to 17-year-olds, reported Erickson & Butters. They also discovered that for Toronto youth who were not attending school regularly, and for youth who were in custody, selling drugs significantly increased the odds of committing gun violence. It is interesting to note that unlike adults, youth tend to commit crime in groups. A gang or group of youth form a bond and influence the others in their decision-making. A subculture is created and a feeling of solidarity is developed.
So what can we do to help prevent the youth in our community from becoming criminals before the age of 18? A proper education about the effects and outcomes that result from substance use is the first step in breaking the link to crime. Community programs help keep youth off the streets and provide them with ways to have fun, while at the same time adding a learning component. Getting youth involved in anything is important, whether it be playing sports, spending time with the family or participating in an after-school program. It is obvious that reaching youth at an early age is pertinent to decreasing the amount of drug use which, as a result, will lead to a decrease in criminal behaviour among youth.
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