Youth Criminal Justice Act Essay Example


Reckless driving. Binge drinking. Experimenting with drugs. Having unprotected sex. Youth, compared to young children and adults, are prone to partake in risky and irresponsible behavior (Sorrel). In fact, it’s ingrained in adolescents’ brains to value the reward over the risk and ignore the long-term consequences of potential decisions (Steinburg). As adolescents grow into adults, the ‘cognitive control’ system of the brain develops; that is why adults are more cautious and less likely to engage in irrational behavior (Stevens). So, why should individuals spend the rest of their lives paying for the impulsiveness of youth? Here, the Youth Criminal Justice Act comes into play. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, often referred to as the YCJA, was established on April 1, 2003, replacing the previous Youth Offenders Act (The Government of Canada). It is the law that governs Canada’s youth justice system, applicable to minors who have committed crimes and are at least 12 but under 18 (The Government of Canada). The YCJA doesn’t just punish young criminals, but is focused on rehabilitation and reintegration into society (Rees).The YCJA offers more forgiving court procedures and sentences to youth in comparison to adults, recognizing the cognitive differences that led adolescents to their decisions (The Government of Canada). Also, the rehabilitative aspects of the YCJA help youngsters grow from their actions and ease themselves back into society (The Government of Canada). Finally, youth incarceration has been on the decline since the 2003 reinstatement, proving the YCJA has had a significant impact on the justice system (The Government of Canada). The Youth Criminal Justice Act is incredibly beneficial to criminalized youth and Canadian society as a whole because of its lighter sentencing, rehabilitative measures, and positive effect on crime rates across the nation. It is an excellent course of action that pushes Canada to a more compassionate and righteous society.

Firstly, the Youth Criminal Justice Act outlines vastly different procedures and sentencing for youth compared to adults (Snyder). The sentencing differences allow for the child’s development to be accounted for, which benefits them. Sentencing for youth is typically much lighter than that for adults who commit similar crimes. The stark contrast between youth and adult sentencing for first-degree murder establish my point. In Canada, adults convicted of first-degree murder are sentenced to life in prison with the chance to apply for parole after 25 years. Youth receive about 10 years of punishment for first-degree murder; they will spend 6 years in continuous custody, and for the remaining 4 years they will be placed under conditional supervision to be served in the community (Robichaud). While the differences are certainly drastic, they are just. Youth cannot be held responsible for crimes committed in the same way adults are. They can be driven to commit crimes under unfavourable circumstances. Poverty is proven to be the primary factor that leads youth to commit crime; at least 60% of young criminals are unemployed. Home life, relationship abuse, and peer pressure are also variables that come into play. (The Government of Canada). Children can rarely escape their situations, and can even resort to murder in cases such as battered child’s syndrome. More forgiving sentencing practices allows these adolescents a chance to succeed at life. 

However, the YCJA still delivers justice, especially in the most severe of cases. In the most heinous situations, youth can be tried as adults. For example, if a 16-year-old girl is tried as an adult and is convicted of first degree murder, she will receive a maximum sentance of life imprisonment with parole as an option in 10 years (Robichaud). If the girl was under 16 at the time the crime was committed, she would instead be met with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment with parole in 5 to 7 years, at the discretion of the judge (Robichaud).  Youth do not always commit crimes out of circumstance. Additionally, the older the criminal is the more cognisant they are of their actions (Jaksa). In some cases, it is necessary to try adolescents as adults. The Crown may feel the convicted imposes a risk to their peers and the greater society, in which case they must be more harshly punished. The YCJA does an excellent job of handling the discrepancies between youth and adult crime, as well as providing justice and strict sentences for the most severe offenders.

Furthermore, the rehabilitative nature of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is a key component contributing to the success of the Act and benefit of the convicted. The Act provides criminals with supervision orders and attendance orders that thoroughly contribute to their progression and maturation. Supervision orders are often coupled with intensive support. This sentencing decision closely monitors and supports the youth in order to assist him or her in changing their behavior (The Government of Canada). Attendance orders force the young person to attend a specialized program at specific times with conditions set by the judge (The Government of Canada). Attendance order programs are often catered to the convicted’s particular issues; for example, he or she may have to be at the program during times where they are susceptible to be unsupervised and break the law (The Government of Canada). These two orders are mostly presented to young people who have committed summary offenses like petty theft, underage drinking and drug use, disorderly conduct or some types of harassment (Associated Youth Services of Peel). Instead of just slapping the convicted with jail time and a fine, the programs and support provisioned enable understanding and growth. 

For more extreme convictions, the sentence of intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision order is common (The Government of Canada). This sentence aids violent offenders. The YCJA states that this sentence can be served in youth justice courts if; “The young person has been found guilty of a serious violent offence, or the young person has been found guilty of an offence, in the commission of which the young person caused or attempted to cause serious bodily harm and for which an adult is liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years, and the young person had previously been found guilty at least twice of such an offence” (The Government of Canada). A youth with this sentence is housed in a facility with intense rehabilitative and mental health resources. They are subject to both strict community and conditional supervision (Miller). It is deeply difficult to try and better youth with profound mental health issues, especially when they have violated the law in the worst ways such as committing murder and aggravated sexual assault. The YCJA ensures the justice system is dedicated to their advancement. The federal government allocates funding for the provinces and territories to execute the intensive rehabilitative sentencing option across the country (Explore the YCJA).  The range of rehabilitative options stipulates that young criminals can receive specialized treatment that hopefully helps them grow and eventually find a productive place in society. 

Notably, the YCJA is having a solid impact on crime rates in Canada. The number of custody sentences have been dropping since the installment of the YCJA. The number of custody sentences have decreased by 64 percent between 2002-2003 and 2009-2010 (The Government of Canada). While more than one in four guilty cases evolved in custody in the last year of the YOA, only one in about seven guilty cases did so in 2008–2009. The percentage of guilty cases resulting in custody also dipped considerably in all provinces and territories (The Government of Canada). The dropoff in custody sentences is a positive reflection on the YCJA. The reduction in this type of sentence can be traced to the YCJA’s specific outlined procedures as well as the rehabilitative alternatives. 

Furthermore, the more serious custody sentences have been plummeting. More than 50% of custody sentences have been inflicted in cases involving relatively less serious offenses. These sentences can be classified as summary or hybrid, including possession of stolen property, theft, mischief, and common assault where no bodily harm was caused. (Bala and Carrington). The percentage described is constructive because indictable offenses are becoming less common. It is much more favourable to have a higher rate of summary offenses over indictable offenses like murder and rape. Moreover, the steady decline of sentencing and imprisonment rates correlates to the fact that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is impacting the youth criminal justice act in a helpful manner. 

Ultimately, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is  continuously having favourable consequences for criminalized youth. The act’s merciful and considerate approach is beneficial. This is apparent through the Act’s varying sentencing procedures, which allow adolescents a better chance. In addition, the rehabilitative elements of the YCJA promote emotional betterment and future criminal deterrent. Further, the YCJA has helped lower the amount and severity of custody sentences collectively across Canada. The Youth Criminal Justice Act contributes to a more compassionate, upstanding, and forgiving society.

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