Youth Criminal Justice System in Canada

Youth Criminal Justice System in Canada

  1. Youth Criminal Justice Act in Canada

            The Youth Criminal Justice Act was passed in 2003 and amended in 2012. It applies to youths who are at least twelve years but below eighteen years who have committed criminal offenses that demand court intervention. Although the youth comprise of only ten percent of the Canadian population, twenty percent of the crimes are committed by them. As such, there was a need for the Canadian government to come up with a criminal act that will guide the court to take action in case youths are presented to them (Jones, 2015 p. 95) Such an act was to favor them so that they cannot undergo the same punishment as adults. Besides, this act was passed to avoid the overuse of the Canadian courts on less serious cases, bring fairness in judgment, and incorporate effective reintegration of the youths released from custody.

i). Preamble and Declaration of Principle

According to the preamble principle, society has the responsibility of monitoring and regulating the actions of the youth to prevent them from committing crimes that can lead to sentencing. Therefore, courts should consider the rights and freedom of the youths before making any judgments. As such, courts should consider the special interests among those youths who are caught in crime so that they can take them through rehabilitation and reintegration (Hyde, Marinos, & Innocente, 2016 p. 198). Besides, serious interventions should only be applied to serious crimes whereas light criminal acts should be solved lightly. On the other hand, the Declaration of Principle claims that the youth justice system was meant to protect the public by ensuring the youth are held accountable of the criminal offenses they commit (Marinos, Innocente, & Goodwin-DeFaria, 2017 p. 256). Since young people lack the maturity of adults, their justice system has to be separated from those of adults so that appropriate measures can be taken to counter their behaviors when they are brought before the court.

ii). Extrajudicial Measures

            Among the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Acts is to promote the application of extrajudicial measures to less serious crimes committed by the youth. Such measures include allowing the involved youth to repair the offense that he/she has caused (Ricciardelli, Crichton, Swiss, Spencer, & Adorjan, 2017 p. 608). Besides, it allows the outside community to intervene by providing appropriate solutions to correct behaviors of such youths. However, the involved police officers should keep records of the youths who have been subjected to extrajudicial measures so that any future criminal acts committed by the same person can be traced. Among the proposed extrajudicial measures include giving warning, police cautions, extrajudicial sanctions, and referrals to other bodies in the communities that can correct behaviors among the youths (Jeffrey, Therien, & Bali, 2017 p. 1).

iii). Conferences

            The use of conferences is another principle that guides youth criminal justice. In this case, courts replace sentencing youths by coming up with conferences that can transform youths into responsible citizens in the country. Such conferences include youth justice meetings, sentencing circles, and community accountability panels among others (Goodfellow, 2018 p. 257). In this regard, those involved in the conference are selected based on the nature of the criminal offense committed by the youth. For example, parents can be involved if the committed offense needs their intervention.



iv). Pre-trial Detention

            Unlike in the previous years where pre-trial detention was being frequently used to when youths committed criminal offenses, the Youth Criminal Justice Act reduced to tendencies of detaining the youth without any reasonable reasons. According to this act, the involved judge is supposed to make inquiries as to why the youth has been detained. Also, only those who have been sentenced to custody due to severe offenses are to face detention. Still, the 2012 amendment on this Act passed that the youth should only be detained in case there is a need for public protection or if there is a likelihood that he/she will not return court when released (Mawby, 2016 p. 2). According to Section 137 of the Act, failure to turn up when released on probation is termed as ‘Breach of Probation’ and it is always term as a punishable offense.

v). Youth Sentence

            Previously, youths in Canada were subjected to sentencing even when they had not committed major offenses. Such practices were unfair since most of them could not take care of themselves while in custody. However, the amendment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act brought many changes as far as the sentencing of youths is concerned. First of all, sentences for youths should not be similar to those of adult since most of the youths commit criminal offenses without knowing the outcomes (Alain, & Desrosiers, 2016 p.23)). Also, sentences imposed on youths should correspond with the seriousness of the offenses committed. Lastly, the sentence options should be able to change the lives of the youths through rehabilitation or reintegration. Common sentence options include reprimand, attendance order, and intensive support and supervision order among others.



vi). Adult Sentence

            Even though the Youth Criminal Justice Act was meant to separate youth judgment from adult judgment, some cases laws apply to both groups. Youths who commit offenses such as murder, aggravated sexual assault, or manslaughter are always judged as adults (Zhang, 2016 p. 532). However, the youth will serve an adult sentence while in a youth facility until he/she turns eighteen years old. Thereafter, the youth can be transferred to an adult facility.

  1. Parental involvement in Youth Criminal Justice Legislation

            Following the 2003 amendment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in Canada, parents began playing an integral part in the youth justice legislation. Almost all parent have attended court hearings for their children, and this shows that they are concerned with their children’s lives (Heinmiller, Hennigar, & Kopec, 2017 p. 411). Still, parental involvement in hearing cases of their children has not proved to change the outcomes of the sentences passed by the court for the crimes they have committed. As such, parental involvement has not been identified as a measure to determine the outcome of the court hearing (Wong, Bouchard, Gravel, Bouchard, & Morselli, 2016 p. 132). As a result, many youths had ended up in custody even when their parents were ready to support them and stand with them while in court.

  1. Controversies Surrounding Youth Criminal Justice Legislation

            After passing the 2002 Youth Criminal Justice Act, several controversies have risen whereby some people believe that the Act is weak and adopting did not help reduce the youth crime rate in Canada. Rejecters of the Bill claim that judges and law enforcers have been given much discretion in charging and sentencing the youth (Roberts, 2018 p. 328). As a result, many cases of injustice in ruling out youth cases have been reported. Therefore, rejecters claim that Bill has not helped solve the youth crime rate in Canada. On the other side, supporters of the Youth Criminal Justice Act claim that it has brought justice to the youth who sometimes do not understand what they are until they are caught by the police. Besides, the enforcement of this law has offered some extrajudicial measures to deal with less serious cases among youths. Therefore, the Bill being fair to the youth who need to grow into productive members of society.



Alain, M., & Desrosiers, J. (2016). 1 A Fairly Short History of Youth Criminal Justice in Canada. Implementing and Working with the Youth Criminal Justice Act across Canada, 23.

Goodfellow, C. L. (2018). The Alberta Youth Criminal Defence Office-A Model of Advocacy for Youth with FASD. In Ethical and Legal Perspectives in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) (pp. 251-266). Springer, Cham.

Heinmiller, B. T., Hennigar, M. A., & Kopec, S. (2017). Degenerative Politics and Youth Criminal Justice Policy in Canada. Politics & Policy, 45(3), 405-431.

Hyde, C., Marinos, V., & Innocente, N. (2016). What do meaningful consequences and fair and proportionate accountability mean to youth offered extrajudicial sanctions in Ontario?. Canadian Journal of criminology and criminal justice, 58(2), 194-220.

Jeffrey, N., Therien, A., & Bali, V. (2017). Youth Criminal Justice in Canada.

Jones, B. (2015). Accepting That Children Are Not Miniature Adults: A Comparative Analysis of Recent Youth Criminal Justice Developments in Canada and the United States. Canadian Criminal Law Review, 19(1), 95.

Marinos, V., Innocente, N., & Goodwin-DeFaria, C. (2017). Giving Voice: Prioritizing Youth Agency in Criminal Justice Diversion. The Sociology of Childhood and Youth in Canada, 256.

Mawby, R. I. (2016). Rural policing and policing the rural: A constable countryside?. Routledge.

Ricciardelli, R., Crichton, H., Swiss, L., Spencer, D. C., & Adorjan, M. (2017). From knowledge to action? The Youth Criminal Justice Act and the use of extrajudicial measures in youth policing. Police Practice and Research, 18(6), 599-611.

Roberts, J. (2018). Public opinion, crime, and criminal justice. Routledge.

Wong, J. S., Bouchard, J., Gravel, J., Bouchard, M., & Morselli, C. (2016). Can at-risk youth be diverted from crime? A meta-analysis of restorative diversion programs. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43(10), 1310-1329.

Zhang, L. (2016). Are youth offenders responsive to changing sanctions? Evidence from the Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act of 2003. Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue Canadienne d’économique, 49(2), 515-554.