Sleepers Essay Term PaperKimberly Schwarz
Humber College Institute of Technology
Sleepers Essay Term PaperFor the case of this paper on the movie “Sleepers” which is a legal crime drama written in America in 1996, we will be looking at it as if this had taken place in Canada. All legal matters and charges, as well as sentencing, will be treated as if under Canadian law, the Criminal Code of Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
We will be discussing the lives of four young boys, who for this essay will be treated as if they were 13-14 years of age at the time of the incident.
Mischief causing actual danger to life
S.430(2) C.C. “Everyone who commits mischief that causes actual danger to life guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.”
Mischief over $5000 I decided to use subsection b instead of a which makes it a summary offence as opposed to an indictable offence which is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.
S.430(3)(b) C.C. “Everyone who commits mischief concerning property that is a testamentary instrument or the value of which exceeds five thousand dollars is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
S.322(1)(a) C.C. Everyone commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or the use of another person, anything whether animate or inanimate, with intent, to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it, or a person who has a special property interest in it, of the thing or of his property or interest in it;
We will be looking at how this may have unfolded in the different Court Systems, Restorative versus Retributive and then my personal opinion on the which would have been better for the boys.
Retributive Justice is based on a theory that when an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they receive punishment in return if found guilty of committing the offence. The law requires that the punishment is equal to that of the crime, to help prevent future crimes and hopefully rehabilitate the offender. An example would be “an eye for an eye.” The retributive system is not focused on the personal side; it is a matter of law. This system is not for punishing the victims but purely for ensuring that the person who committed the offence is getting the punishment they deserve. (Study.com, 2019)
If this system was used for Shanks and his friends, based on the charges listed on page two, the boys could be facing life in prison based on the first and more serious charge of Mischief causing danger to life. This would have the boys charged on an indictable offence and liable to face life in prison. They may have been made to serve the other charges concurrently since they are young. However, Shanks may not have faced the same punishment as it was not his idea to move the cart above the stairs which resulted in the man being hospitalized. In this instance, Shanks would have been faced the 10 years in prison. This case, however, would be handled in a Youth Court as opposed to in a regular court.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, S.38(3)(b) In determining a youth sentence, the youth justice court shall take into account the harm done to the victims and whether it was intentional or reasonably foreseeable; (Youth Criminal Justice Act, 2003)
Taking this into consideration I believe that the boys may have been charged with one of the lesser offences, because for the boys they did not intend for the man at the bottom of the subway to get injured and they did not realise how heavy the cart would become when trying to hold it over the stairs, not taking into account gravity, the weight of the cart and their overall strength.
The restorative justice system has been a part of Canada’s legal system for the past 40 years. It focuses on addressing the harm caused and holding the individual/s accountable for their actions. The principles of this system are about respect, compassion, and inclusivity. It brings the victims and the offenders together with a mediator to try and work out the best possible solution to reach the desired outcome. Restorative Justice recognizes that crime hurts everyone victims, offenders, and community. It creates an obligation between the offenders and the victims to make things right in a way that is agreed upon by everyone. (Justice.gc.ca, 2019)
If the case of Shanks and his friends had been handled by the restorative Justice System, It may have been better for them as it would have made them sit face to face with the victims and work together to come up with a reasonable punishment that was agreed upon by both sides. This may have helped keep the boys out of the Wilksons Home for boys which led them to seek revenge and took them down a dark path.
The boys could have been made to do a set amount of community service hours or join community-run programs that would both benefit the community as well as keeping them out of any future trouble and away from bad influencers in the neighbourhood.
I believe that the boys may have learned more from being sentenced under the Restorative Justice System as they would under the Retributive system. Taking their age into account at the time of the offence, they would not have known better.
In the narrative we hear shanks giving, we hear him talk about when he watched the vendor walk towards the court, they had never considered that he could have been a husband or a father, or someone just trying to provide for his family. Here we can already see that they were feeling guilty about their actions. The retributive system would not have taken any of this into account when deciding on how the boys should be punished. I think if the consequences from their actions may have resulted in the death of the man at the bottom of the stairs that maybe then the Retributive system would have been the better way to go.
But the boys may not have ended up in the way they did if they had been sentenced differently. The two boys may not have become hardened criminals who sought revenge and they have grown up to be functioning adults who could have contributed to their communities.
They could have been made to do a set amount of community service time as well as helping both the man injured who ended up in the hospital and the vendor. For the man, they injured they could have been made to help him with physical cores until he was fully recovered and able to help himself. The vendor, they could have been made to work for the vendor for free, paying any wages they would’ve earned back to the vendor until the price of the damage to the cart was paid off. These 3 things together would have helped the boys in more ways than just helping the victims hurt. The boys would have been kept busy during their free time, meaning that they would not be allowed to run around and cause more mischief as well as keeping them away from negative influencers in their community such as King Benny and his gang. This leads us to the criminogenic factors behind their behaviour.
Some of the criminogenic factors we will take a closer look at are as follows:
These were all young boys around the age of 13-14 years. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck argued that the gradual move away from crime and criminal behaviour was due to maturation. Youths aged between the ages of 12-17 and young adults 18-24 made up 1/3 of individuals accused in reported crime. There have been several studies that explain the link between age and crime and the pattern that eventually leads to desistance. (Reid and Bromwich, 2019)
It is believed that during the earlier stages of development that the frontal lobe develops later in males than it does in females and is considered only to be fully developed by early adulthood, typically after the age of 19 or 20.
As the boys were still very young at the time of the incident, we can know that they were not fully matured, and the frontal lobe not developed, these factors would have played a big part in the boy’s overall bad decisions that lead to the vendor incident.
With this story being based in the 1990s where family dynamics were a bit more rigid than they are now. The dynamic where the men are in charge and seen as the “head” of the family and the women follow orders. This is the type of dynamic that the boys lived with, where the fathers or, men were physically abusive and domineering towards the mothers in the house. This display of violence growing up was not good for the boys and may have added to their violent streak after getting out of the boys’ home.
Hell’s kitchen back then would be the equivalent of our Jane and Finch area. The community was essentially run by King Benny who got the boys involved in various criminal activities from a young age. Even though the boys had Father Bobby as a role model, they were constantly surrounded by criminals or people involved in criminal activity. The neighbourhood was safe for those that lived in it but not so much for outsiders who did not know the neighbourhood rules. These all played a factor in the boy’s upbringing and how they handled situations. If they had stayed more with Father Bobby and not got involved in their criminal activity it’s possible that the boys may have ended up on a straighter path and out of trouble.
Justice.gc.ca. (2019). Restorative Justice. [online] Available at:
Martin, J. and Henein, M. (2019). Martin’s annual criminal code 2020. United States: Thomson Reuters.
Reid, S. and Bromwich, R. (2019). Youth and the Law. 4th ed. Canada: Emond.
Study.com. (2019). What is Retributive Justice? – Definition & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2019].
Walen, Alec, “Retributive Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <
(Criminal Code. R.S., c. C-34, s.1)