The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) applies to young people who are 12-17 years old. The law says a person is an adult at age 18. At age 18, the YCJA does not apply. Offenders are referred to as "young persons". The overall purpose of the YCJA is to make the public feel safe. Young people must be accountable for their actions, which means that they must face the consequences for their wrong-doings. The consequence for the crime must be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. That means that more serious crimes should have more serious consequences.
Did You Know?
- Most youth who commit crimes are between the ages of 14 and 17.
- If youth are younger than 12 years old, they are not dealt with under the YCJA. The government's Ministry of Children and Family Development deals with those youth.
- Parents and guardians are told if their child commits a crime. They are asked to come to court to prove the age of their child.
Why do we have the YCJA?
The YCJA treats youth differently from adults because of their level of dependency, maturity and development. There are three principles of the YCJA that promote the long term protection of the public.
- Prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s behaviour
- Rehabilitate and reintegrate young people who commit offences into society
- Ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence
What Does the YCJA Do?
It establishes a fair and effective youth justice system. Serious and repeat offenders will be dealt with more severely. There are many choices or options in sentencing. Victims, parents and the community are encouraged to become involved in the process whether it is in court or not.
What are "Meaningful Consequences"?
Meaningful consequences are things done to help youth understand the implications of their actions and to fix the harm done to others. Measures to deal with youth crime should:
- Address the crime
- Mean something to the offender
- Reinforce respect for Canadian values
- Help fix the harm done to victims and the community
- Respect gender, ethnic, cultural, and language differences
- Involve the family, the community, and other groups
- Respond to the needs and lives of Aboriginal youth and youth with special requirements
Non-Violent Crime and First Time Offenders
Most youth who commit crimes are either non-violent or first time offenders. Non-violent and first time offenders will have a range of options other than going to court such as police warnings or police or Crown diversion programs. Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions may place young people who offend into programs that will help address their problems and they may also provide an opportunity for restitution to the community. If they go to court sentences could include doing something for the victim to make up for the crime or doing some form of community service.
Violent and Repeat Offenders
Serious violent crimes occur when someone gets hurt as a result of a crime or if there is a serious risk of someone being hurt. For example, a robbery in which no one was injured could be considered "violent" if a gun, or even a replica of a gun, was used as a threat. A youth is a "repeat offender" if s/he has committed a crime before.
An adult sentence can be given to a youth 14-17 years old if that person has been convicted of one of four serious violent offences or if the youth has a pattern of convictions for violent offences, or if the offence is one for which an adult could receive more than two years in jail. This means that when a youth (14, 15, 16 or older) commits attempted murder, murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or a third serious violent offence an adult sentence shall be imposed if the youth is found guilty.
The trial is always held in youth court. A province may fix an age greater than 14 years but not more than 16 years for the purpose of the application of the provisions relating to these presumptive offences. The YCJA can provide for a sentence that includes special supervision if the youth has committed one of the more serious crimes. This special supervision is called "intensive rehabilitative custody." The maximum youth sentence is ten years for first-degree murder, six years served in custody and four years under supervision.
The YCJA states that the media may publish the name of a youth who has been convicted of a serious violent crime and has received an adult sentence. If the youth does get an adult sentence for a serious violent crime, then the records are treated in the same way as if the youth were an adult.
Custody as a Consequence
Keeping people in custody has been shown not to be the best approach for rehabilitation. When people are released they might commit further crimes because they have not broken their old habits or they have learned bad habits from other offenders. Therefore, alternatives to custody should be considered for youth.
Alternatives to the Formal Court Process
"Extrajudicial Measures and Extrajudicial Sanctions" are designed to solve problems and to keep young people out of the court system by having them take responsibility for their actions and, where appropriate, take other action such as to apologize, to attend counselling, to make restitution, among others. These extra-judicial measures and sanctions are often more meaningful and can help the youth focus on repairing the harm done to the victim and to the community.
Restorative justice means that those who are involved in a crime – victims, victims' families, youth who offend and the community – are encouraged to reconcile, restore and repair relationships and situations.
Rehabilitation means that young offenders must take steps to address some of his/her problems. Young people must be held accountable for their crimes. However, because of their age, young people are less set in their ways and they are more likely to respond to treatment programs and to be successfully rehabilitated and become law-abiding citizens. The YCJA underscores the importance of rehabilitation programs such as drug and alcohol counselling, anger management programs and job training.
Reintegration means that the youth must learn to fit back into his/her community. The YCJA makes this a priority. All custodial sentences will include a period of supervision in the community following the period of custody. Reintegration planning will be required for all youth in custody. There may be some rules that the youth must follow. The youth may have to attend school, obey a curfew, not associate with certain people, not use drugs or alcohol and attend anger management or drug and alcohol counselling. If these conditions are followed while the youth is being closely supervised and supported then the youth has a better chance of not committing a crime again during this critical period.
Consequences of Having a Criminal Record
The convicted youth would have a criminal record for up to five years after s/he has completed his/her sentence or ten years if a violent offence. If s/he commits another offence within that time period then, the previous offence could be addressed in court especially in sentencing. Even a "closed" youth record can be reopened by the court at a later time if more offences are committed. A convicted youth may not be able to travel to another country or secure certain types of employment if they have a record. What youth need to realize is that their young offender criminal record will not automatically disappear after they reach the age of 18. These are serious consequences for youth.
Youth have "due process" rights which include the right to be heard and take part in processes that affect them and special guarantees of rights and freedoms under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Youth aged 12-17 who commit offences are treated differently than adults.
- The objectives of the youth justice system are crime prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration, and meaningful consequences. These objectives taken together will promote the long-term protection of the public.
- Measures to deal with youth crime should be meaningful to the youth, encourage the repair of the harm done to victims and the community and should be responsive to the needs and circumstances of Aboriginal youth and youth with special requirements.
- Measures must be fair and in proportion to the seriousness of the offence.
- Youth have due process rights, which include the right to be heard and participate in the decisions that affect them.
- The youth, his or her parents, the victim and the community all play an important role when addressing the youth’s criminal behaviour.
- The YCJA gives rehabilitation and reintegration special emphasis and recognizes the importance of timely intervention.
Legal Terms Defined
Aboriginal: This term includes Métis people, as well as people of the First Nations communities across Canada.
Alleged: To say something is the case before it has been proven in court.
Community-based Measure: Something that happens outside the court system to hold a youth accountable for a crime.
Community-based Sanction: Something that happens outside the court system to hold a youth accountable for a crime. It includes a program or conditions that the youth must complete.
Community Justice Conference: A type of conferencing authorized by law. It is a gathering of those concerned with the youth and the crime who meet to discuss how to deal with the youth. The youth who committed the crime, their family members, police, and people affected by the crime are among those who may attend. Victims may attend if they choose to do so.
The Crown: A lawyer for the government who decides if there is enough evidence to charge the youth with a criminal offence. The Crown is also called "the prosecutor" because he or she presents the evidence against the accused if the case goes to court.
Custody: This is the term for being under someone’s care or control. For youth convicted of a crime, it means being in the care and control of Youth Corrections. "Closed custody" means being held in a jail. "Open custody" means being held in a jail with fewer restrictions and conditions.
Extra-judicial: This term means outside the court system.
Extra-judicial Measures: These are measures taken outside the formal court system to deal with youth crime. They are initiated by the police or Crown counsel.
Extra-judicial Sanction: These are rules attached to measures outside the formal court system that the youth who committed the crime must follow. It is initiated by Crown counsel.
Judge: This is an official with special legal training appointed by government to decide whether or not the facts presented in court prove the youth committed the offence. The judge decides the sentence for the crime.
Lawyer: This is a person with special legal training who can represent someone in court and give advice about the law.
Offence: This is another word for a crime.
Probation: This means a sentence that puts conditions on the youth’s behaviour in the community.
Rehabilitation Program: This refers to programs designed to address the problems that lead the youth to commit the crime.
Reintegration: This refers to the youth’s ability to fit back into his or her community.
Sanctions: These are rules the youth must obey.
Sentence: This refers to the penalty for a crime.
Sentencing Circle: This is a gathering of members of the community and the young offender (and the victim if he or she chooses). They work out a sentence that will help the youth repair the harm caused by the crime. They tell the sentencing judge what they recommend.