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Youth Crime in Canada


Is the CanadianJustice System too lenient on young offenders?

In Canada, for many, the treatment of juvenile delinquents was guidedby the provisions of the Young Offenders Act, which was in existencesince 1981 before it was replaced by the Youth Criminal Justice Act(YCJA) in 2003. The major noticeable difference between the YOA andthe YCJA is the declaration clause. For the YCJA, the clause goespast addressing the rehabilitation needs of young offenders. It alsoconsiders meaningful punishment for the juvenile delinquents as wellas their reintegration into the society. Many people have accused theYCJA of being too lenient on the young offenders and thus failing inits deterrent role. Before the enactment of the YCJA, Canada wasincarcerating its youths at a much higher rate than any otherdeveloped country. Besides, juvenile delinquents were incarcerated atan even higher rate compared to the adults who committed the sameoffenses. For example, 80% of all youths found guilty of non-violentoffenses were given a custodial sentence (Linton, 2013). However,the tough-on-youth crime approach failed tremendously in its attemptto address the issue of juvenile delinquency. This paper argues thatthe Youth Criminal Justice Act is not lenient on the young offendersinstead, it is based on principles that have proved to be effectivein addressing the issue of recidivism among the juvenile delinquents.

The YCJA emphasizes on restorative justice as opposed to punishingthe young offenders. Restorative justice functions by placing thevictims at the heart of the criminal justice system instead ofsidelining them. Additionally, it seeks to treat or rehabilitateinstead of punishing offenders. Restorative justice ingrained in theYCJA aims at effectively holding the juvenile delinquents accountablefor their actions. Studies have shown that young offenders are morelikely to perceive the process of making them account for theircrimes as fair when the restorative justice approach is used asopposed to the court process. Linton (2013) explores the Australianmodel of restorative justice that uses conference group method tobring together the victims of crimes and the offenders as well asother key stakeholders. In one study, young offenders were randomlyassigned to either a conference group or a youth court. The offensescommitted by the participants ranged from sexual assault toshoplifting. The study revealed that 63% of the young persons accusedof committing the various crimes whose cases were heard by aconference group reported feeling that their rights were respectedcompared to 38% of those who went through the court process (Linton,2013). Additionally, 74% of the offenders subjected to the conferenceapproach felt that the outcome was fair in comparison to 54% of thosewhose cases were processed by the court (Linton, 2013). Linton (2013)in his research found that there was a close correlation between theyoung offenders’ perception of the fairness of the process used tomake them pay for their misconduct and their likelihood to re-offend. According to Linton, (2013), the juveniles who felt that they werefairly treated were less likely to re-offend. For example, the rateof re-offending declined by 11% for offenders subjected to the courtprocess compared to 49% for their counterparts whose cases were heardby a conference group (Linton, 2013). Restorative justice aims atmaking the offenders witness the harm their actions have on theirvictims and the society as a whole. After seeing the implications oftheir actions, offenders are more likely to accept the form ofpunishment they are subjected to without complaining.

Apart from incorporating the principles of restorative justice, theYouth Criminal Justice Act has put in place various extrajudicialmeasures aimed at ensuring that juvenile delinquents do not enter thejudicial system. For example, a police officer may decide not toarrest a young offender. Consequently, according toBala and Roberts (2012), there was a 17.5% decline inpolice charges against young persons within the first year of theimplementation of the YCJA.Also, a police officer may arrest ajuvenile delinquent and release him/her with a formal warning orrefer him/her to a community-based intervention program. Theseoptions are available to young persons who commit relatively minorcrimes. The aim is to ensure that the youths are kept out of thecourts whenever possible but at the same time, enroll them in therelevant intervention program that would decrease their chances ofreoffending.The YCJA emphasizes on out-of-court settlements suchas community service, probations, and other alternatives toincarcerations for young offenders who engage in shoplifting, drugoffenses, theft, and property damage. The extrajudicial measures aimat reducing the number of the young persons being processed in youthcourt, especially the juveniles accused of minor offenses as well asthe first time offenders(Bala &amp Roberts, 2006). According to Wilsonand Hoge (2013), the juveniles enrolled in diversionprograms experience a lower recidivism rate compared to theircounterparts who face the traditional judicial system. However,diversion programs that target youths prior to them being charged ina youth court are more effective in reducing recidivism compared tothose that accept charged youths(Wilson &amp Hoge, 2013).

Besides incorporating the principles of restorative justice, the YCJAaims at ensuring that only young offenders who have been accused ofcommitting serious crimes are charged in youth courts. Since theintroduction of the YCJA, the number of youths charged with crimeshas decreased by 28%(Brannan, 2012). However, according to some people,the decline in arrest rates among the youths does not reflect theeffectiveness of YCJA. People who hold this opinion argue that about60% of the youths who had been previously charged with committingviolent crimes re-offended before two years had elapsed(The Cord, 2011). However, statistics show thatCanadian youths are committing fewer violent crimes. According toBrannan (2012), the majority of the cases handled inyouth courts in Canada between 2010 and 2011 involved non-violentoffenses. These offenses include traffic violations, consumption ordealing in drugs, and property offenses. Only 27% of the casescompleted in youth courts involved violent offenses(Brannan, 2012). For the 73% of nonviolent violationsthat found their way into the youth courts, 15% involved theft while11% had something to do with the failure to comply with previoussentences(Brannan, 2012). Previous studies show that the public has more fearfor crimes such as murder, assault, and armed robbery. As such, evenif the young persons are reoffending despite the implementation ofthe Youth Criminal Justice Act, the public has less fear of beingvictimized since the juvenile delinquents are more likely to engagein non-violent crimes.

Besides, the YCJA Act ensures that only the juveniles that the policehave strong evidence that point to them having committed seriouscrimes enter the judicial system. Currently, only one in six youthsbeing arrested in Canada is charged(Brannan, 2012). With the implementation of the YCJA,only criminals who commit serious offenses find their way to theyouth court. This has resulted in the decline in the number ofacquittals. In 2010/2011, 57% of juvenile court cases culminated in aguilty outcome, 42% were either withdrawn or dismissed while only 1%resulted in an acquittal (Brannan,2012). Besides, under the YCJA, the number of theyoung offenders facing custodial sentences has decreasedsignificantly. Between 2010 and 2011, 16% of young offenders whofound their way to the youth courts were given custodial sentences(Brannan, 2012). Brannan(2012) adds that the use of custodial sentencing hasdeclined over the past ten years. Consequently, the use ofsupervision orders and deferred incarceration sentences has increasedsignificantly since 2003. The different alternatives to custodialsentencing allow juvenile delinquent to serve their communities understrict conditions instead of being incarcerated in a correctionalfacility. If a young offender violates the terms of the communityservice, the deferred custodial sentence may be revoked sendinghim/her to the correctional facility(Brannan.2012). Previous researches have shown that theexperience that young persons go through when they are charged inyouth courts even if they are not found guilty of any crime hassevere consequences on their lives.

More so, the criminal justice has little control over the behavior ofthe children. This is because the primary responsibility of dealingwith the errant children rests with the parents. However, themajority of them are not willing to play their roles in ensuring theproper development of their children. Instead, they leave theresponsibility of amending the bad behaviors of their children to thegovernment and the society. However, the YCJA allows the parents tobe involved in the criminal justice process when their children arefacing criminal charges. The involvement of parents in the treatmentof young offenders lowers the rate of recidivism(Bala &amp Roberts, 2012). Additionally, juveniledelinquency is a representation of the social problems that thesociety is unwilling to confront. Some of the factors that triggeryoung people to become offenders include unemployment, familyconflict, racial prejudice, and poverty. These factors representdifficult social issues for which the government does not have easysolutions. However, the Youth Criminal Justice Act seeks to preventoffending by young people by addressing the underlying causes oftheir criminal behavior(Bala &amp Roberts, 2012). A large proportion ofjuvenile offenders have experienced neglect, trauma or abuse at somepoint in their lives (Bala&amp Roberts, 2012). As such, all factors that accountfor the young offenders’ misconduct, whether cognitive deficits,family challenges or behavior problems need to be acknowledged whenplanning and implementing an intervention program aimed at addressingrecidivism among the youths.

Besides, the YCJA provides for harsher sentencing for young offendersaged between 14 and 18 years who commit serious violent crimes. Thejudge is empowered by the Act to assign the juvenile offenders whoare aged 14 years and above an adult sentence. Additionally, the Actlowered the age of presumption from 16 to 14. Previously, under theYoung Offenders Act of 1984, only juvenile delinquents aged 16 yearsand above who were convicted of a felony such as murder were chargedin an adult court. According to Redding(2015), the results of a multi-state economic analysis for yearsbetween 1978 and 1993 demonstrated that trying violent juveniles asadults have moderate deterrent effects. The study found a 25%decrease in violent juvenile offenses as well as a 10-15% decline inproperty crimes perpetrated by young offenders in states that allowed17 years old offenders to be charged as adults (Redding, 2015). Aschildren grow up, their mental ability to understand the consequencesof their actions also increases. This means that unlike their youngercounterparts, persons aged 14 years and over understand theconsequences of their actions. As such, punishing them more harshlywill reduce their chances of reoffending.

In conclusion, the Youth Criminal Justice Act aims at addressing theinherent challenges that have plagued the treatment of youngoffenders in Canada for years. It seeks to prevent the youth fromfacing the judicial system and correctional facilities which areknown to harden offenders prompting them to engage in more violentcrimes upon their release. Consequently, the number of young personscharged in youth courts or arrested by the police for various reasonshas decreased. The Act also aims at reintegrating the juveniledelinquents with the society through restorative justice. Since theenactment of the YCJA, the number of young offenders facing jailterms has plummeted significantly. This has made some people to arguethat the law is too lenient on the juvenile delinquents. However,this paper has demonstrated that on the contrary, the YCJA aims atshielding the young offenders from the consequences of facing harshpunishments because the tough-on-crime approach does not reducerecidivism. For instance, numerous studies have shown that prisonsare ineffective in addressing the issue of recidivism with adultoffenders. Besides, the incarceration of young offenders has beenfound to have severe negative consequences since it interferes withthe proper development of children.


Bala, N., &ampRoberts, J. V. (2012). Canada`s juvenile justice system: Promotingcommunity-based responses to youth crime. &nbspInternationalhandbook of juvenile justice&nbsp(pp.37-63). Springer Netherlands.

Brannan, S.(2012). Youth court statistics in Canada, 2011/2011. Accessed onNovember 25, 2016.http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11645-eng.htm

Linton, H. (2013). Restorative justice conferencing and YouthCriminal Justice Act. Accessed on November 25, 2016.https://www.riverdalemediation.com/pdfs/learn/restorative_justice/Restorative_Justice_Youth_Criminal_Justice_Act.pdf

Redding, R.E. (2015). Adultpunishment for juvenile offenders: does it reduce crime?SagePublications.

The Cord.(2011). Punishment for youth crime isn`t serious enough in Canada.Accessed on November 25, 2016.https://thecord.ca/punishments-for-youth-crime-arent-serious-enough-in-canada/

Wilson, H.A., &amp Hoge, R. D. (2013). The effect of youth diversion programson recidivism a meta-analytic review.&nbspCriminaljustice and behavior,&nbsp40(5),497-518.