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HomePolicy Articles Article Summary

Youth Justice Policy and the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Public Policy Paper by Ross Green

With the proclamation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), Canada has just embarked on a new statutory regime of youth justice policy. It draws, to a significant extent, on international experience in the area of youth justice. The sections dealing with extra-judicial measures, conferencing and inter-disciplinary and inter-agency approaches to justice are clear examples of this feature. Yet, making sense of YCJA requires some consideration of the diverse, and at times diametrically opposed, views that the federal government was faced with in drafting this legislation. On the one hand, many provincial voices, and the right-wing federal politicians, urged a tougher and more punitive response to youth crime. Other voices cried out about the phenomenally high levels of youth custody in Canada, and questioned whether there was any evidence that locking up our youth was having a positive effect on our society.

Because the YCJA has tried to satisfy many diverse demands, it sometimes seems divided in outlook. On the one hand it contains provisions that lower the age at which youth can be sentenced as adults for more serious crimes of violence, and reduces the courts’ discretion to deal with these youths. It also makes less onerous the preconditions of admitting the statement of young persons in court, and provides for broader publication of names of young people after conviction. On the other hand, the act loudly asserts that every reasonable alternative to custody should be pursued, and states that the criminal justice system should not use custody as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measure.

Despite its mixed message, this act clearly forms a framework underpinning the youth justice system. It sets out the principles and policies underlying the system, and establishes the processes, and the options open, for police and youth courts. But as important as the YCJA is to the justice system, it only paints only part of the youth justice picture. Just as significant are the resources available to support offenders and victims within a community. The YCJA expands considerably the variety of dispositions that can be used to deal with offending youth. Unfortunately, the act gives each province a discretion as to whether many of these alternatives will be put into force. The extent to which this will create a patchwork quilt of options and resources for young offenders across Canada remains to be seen. Ultimately, it is the range and availability of resources within the youth justice system, and the collective ability of those employed within institutions and services in helping and educating at risk youth, that will make a difference for these young persons and, as a result, for the safety of our broader community.

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Policy Publication Details

Author(s): Ross Green;
Publisher: Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy [ Visit Website ]
Year Published: 2003; Publisher Type: Research Institute
Publicly Available: Yes Research Focus: National;
Registration Required: No Language: English
Payment Required: No Publication Format: Adobe PDF

Subjects / Categories:

Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation / 2003
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice


Keywords / Tags:

Youth Justice system; Young offenders act; Youth Criminal Justice Act; custody levels; court procedures; reintegration; Yong violent offenders; Aboriginal young offenders; Crime prevention; ;