Youth Criminal Justice Act: Building Safe Streets and Communities (Full)

♫ I don’t really remember all of what happened the night I was arrested because I was intoxicated and stuff. I started drinking, doing drugs so I kept on getting in trouble with the law so I kept on going back and forth in jail and out of jail, in and out of jail… I was just like whoa, what have I done? You know? What have I, what have I become? You know, it takes a village to raise a child and I think that’s the perspective of The Youth Criminal Justice Act is coming from. It’s about real consequences happening right away and youth can relate to that. I think it is important to remember that it’s kind of not a one-size-fits-all approach, that we have to pay attention to every youth that we come into contact with. They get to take responsibility for what they have done and really own up to it and for a lot of people that is really freeing. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, or YCJA, is the federal law which governs Canada’s youth justice system. The Act applies to Canadian youth aged 12 to 17 who get into trouble with the law. The YCJA came into force in 2003 and was amended in 2012 to strengthen its handling of violent and repeat young offenders. Almost every country in the world has some special legislation or provisions that recognize that children, adolescents, are not to be treated in the same way as adults. That they have a limited state of maturity, they have a limited state of moral development, intellectual development and they are often more amenable to rehabilitation. The Youth Criminal Justice Act states that the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by holding youth accountable, promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth back into society, and preventing crime. It emphasizes that the youth criminal justice system must be separate from the adult system, and based on the principle that youth are presumed to be less morally blameworthy than adults. In other words, the law recognizes that youth must be held accountable, but in a way that takes into account their greater dependency and reduced level of maturity. A key objective, a key principal of the Act is to try to promote the protection of Canadian public. And that includes the short-term protection which may in some circumstance mean removing the young offender from the community but it also includes the long-term protection of society by rehabilitating young people, by dealing with their underlying problems. It also provides more structure to the decision making of judges, probation officers and others, and tries to ensure that custody is used as a last resort and it’s largely been successful in achieving that. This is a much improved situation than we had before under The Young Offenders Act because I am now looking more at not just representing clients but we have to look at trying to find ways to deal with underlying issues which the court might need to address in sentencing in order to assist in the rehabilitation of young persons. The majority of youth crimes involve non-violent activities such as shoplifting, possession of stolen property, breach of probation, or relatively minor assaults that do not involve bodily harm. Experience in Canada and other countries shows that measures outside the formal court process can provide an effective response to youth crime, and one of the key objectives of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is to encourage the use of non-court responses in appropriate cases. These Extrajudicial Measures can provide meaningful consequences, such as requiring the young person to repair the harm done to the victim. They also allow early intervention with young people and provide the opportunity for the broader community to play an important role in developing community-based responses to youth crime. The Act does give police officers the discretion to use pre-charge options and in fact it requires them to give first consideration to the use of extrajudicial measures as a means of addressing offending behaviour. The police officer can choose to verbally warn the youth, or issue a formal caution, where the youth is actually formally warned that they could be charged if that type of offending behaviour continues. The police officer can convene a conference to call together our community partners for the purpose of making recommendations related to appropriate extrajudicial measures. Extrajudicial sanctions are the most formal type of extrajudicial measure and must be applied through a program approved by the Attorney General. These sanctions, such as volunteer work, compensating or paying back the victim, or attending a specialized program, can be applied where the young person takes responsibility for the offence. If the young person fails to comply with the terms and conditions of the sanction the case may proceed through the court process. As far as extrajudicial sanctions go, we have a 95% success rate, meaning that in 95% of cases, even if the measure is voluntary, the young offender will choose to do it, and that is a very positive sign. First of all they work because the youth is willing. So that’s one of the criteria, they also need a good support system, and then they can come to understand the consequences of their actions. When they get to speak to the victim, that’s when they realize, Oh I really caused some pain, cause often they do the act but don’t think about all the consequences. So that’s why it works. It’s a whole cooperative process, everyone agrees and most of the time, the youth doesn’t reoffend. Oh it was just before Halloween, and me and my friend Mike were just out on Main Street walkin’ around and he told me about this bike and he told me he wanted it and just asked me to go get it for him. Oh it was right by the step of the house and I just grabbed it, and we started bikin’ through the trail in the woods. Well it was like right before Halloween and I was just goin’ to go out for trick or treatin’ and then I got, I went outside and I was goin’ to put my bike in the shed and I went out and it wasn’t there. In this case, the youth was referred to a rural New Brunswick program offering youth who’ve committed less serious crimes an alternative to going to court. The program encouraged young people to take responsibility for their actions and make amends by facing the community and the victim. I just felt really bad, really guilty… I didn’t really want to meet them because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Well I was mad that he stole my bike and he probably was pretty upset at what he did too and he’s probably not goin’ to do it again cause he doesn’t want to be known as a thief. Is it this one or is it this one here? It’s the bright yellow one. The bright yellow one, the Scorcher, the stunt bike. The program helped the young man who stole the bike realize the impact the theft had had on other people. He decided to make up for it by buying the 10-year old a brand new bike to replace the one that had been stripped for parts. It was an expensive lesson… but a very important one! It’s not right to steal. And I’ll never do it again and if I ever do see somebody doin’ it then I’m goin’ to let them know that it’s not right. If a young person’s case is not resolved through extrajudicial measures then it will be dealt with in youth court. When a young person is charged with an offence, they may remain in the community, often with strict conditions, or, if the court deems it necessary, be kept in custody until the trial takes place. Being held in custody while awaiting trial is known as pre-trial detention. The Youth Criminal Justice Act has provisions to try to make sure that young people are only placed in detention either for the immediate protection of the public or to ensure that they will attend court. The youth court judge faces a very difficult decision knowing that this could have a very dramatic impact on the life of the young person. And typically detention is sought if it is either a very serious offence, perhaps involving significant violence in the community, or if the young person has a fairly lengthy record of prior offending, or has a record of having been released on bail on certain conditions and having failed to comply with those conditions. If a youth pleads guilty or is found guilty of a criminal offence, the youth court judge must determine the appropriate sentence. The purpose of youth sentences is to hold the young person accountable by imposing sanctions that have meaningful consequences and that promote rehabilitation and reintegration. The YCJA provides youth court judges with many different sentencing options to deal with the full range of youth crime. These include both community-based sentences and custody sentences. The maximum length of youth sentences ranges from two to ten years depending on the offence. Even when young people are found guilty, or convicted of an offence, the courts still have options to have creative sentences. So all the opportunities that are presented in terms of referring young people to agencies, having them go to an attendance centre, have them attend drug and alcohol counselling, doing community service work, have them have an opportunity to meet with a probation officer are all outside of a more formal process. So these measures are excellent in that they draw on the strengths and talents of young people, they involve our community members to be supportive adults to help in the raising and development of young people in our communities. The YCJA, in my opinion, gives the justice system the opportunity to try and nip criminal offences in the bud if we can. And allow for some more creative sentencing, allow for more resources to be employed, so that this may be the only time this person appears in the criminal justice system as an accused person. The range of sanctions, at the low end we start with something called a reprimand. Simply the judge talking to the young person and warning them of the future consequence if they re-offend. Trying to perhaps assess what has happened. We have a range of situations where there may be a discharge imposed, the young person is released without further sanctions or record. In more serious cases and perhaps the most common sentence that is imposed under the Act is probation. So the young person’s released into the community but has to meet certain conditions in terms of their behaviour, often in terms of reporting to a probation officer, perhaps having a curfew, restrictions placed on who they can associate with. In more serious cases we have custody. There is open custody which may have a young person living away from their family but in a group home, there are also provisions for more secure custody which is really effectively jail for young persons in secure facilities. Under the YCJA, custody sentences are intended primarily for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. In some very serious cases, the YCJA also allows judges to impose an intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision order if a youth has been found guilty of a serious violent offence and is suffering from a mental, psychological or emotional disorder. In these cases, an individualized treatment plan is developed for the young person. It involves very intensive treatment, where they have a whole team of psychiatrists, psychologists and medical doctors and nurses, all kinds of therapists working with that young person trying to get what is going on underneath the violence, and work on getting them back into the community. It’s expensive but it works and it’s just an amazing thing with the clients that have been there so far. While in most cases judges impose one of the youth sentencing options within the YCJA, the Act does allow judges to impose an adult sentence on a youth who is found guilty of a serious offence and was 14 years of age or older when the crime was committed. In fact, prosecutors are obligated to consider seeking an adult sentence when a youth is found guilty of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault. However, the Act does allow provinces to set the age at which this obligation applies to 15 or 16. When a judge decides to impose an adult sentence, the Criminal Code penalties that apply to adult offenders are applied to the youth. This can include mandatory minimum penalties and sentences of up to life imprisonment. However, under the YCJA, no portion of either an adult or a youth sentence can be served in an adult rison while the youth is still under the age of 18. The YCJA recognizes that young people coming out of custody will need assistance in successfully reintegrating into the community. Therefore, part of every youth custody sentence must include a set period of community supervision. A youth worker helps the young person plan for their reintegration into the community and provides support to help ensure a successful transition back into society. When you are dealing with a young person you are usually dealing with the family unit to see what’s causing this young person to come in conflict with the law. Some of these young people are very marginalized in a lot of negative risk factors built within their lives. So they come from single families, poverty, they have been victims of abuse, abandonment, mental health issues, families entrenched in gangs and you have to start weeding out the negative risk factors in their lives to help steer that young person into a meaningful contributing member of society. And that takes time, that takes resources, that takes patience, and again The Youth Criminal Justice Act in my opinion, really recognizes that aspect. It includes a lot of community partners and we try to involve as much as we can so the young person has support going out and to try to make it successful for that young person to reintegrate in the community. Some people think I need to be in jail, that’s fine, and I think that ah jail didn’t work for me before and this program has actually helped me. She was serving time for credit card fraud and though she has completed her probation, she comes back to the reintegration support program often. She can’t change her past, but she says it’s time to do something about her future. You know I see something better in the people around me and I look up to a lot of a lot of older people you know from here and out there I just see ladies with their life together they got stuff going for them and I look up to that and I want something like that. We have all seen the prison movies of releasing someone with a new suit of clothes and two bucks in their pocket. It doesn’t work because people are then without resources in the community. So the gradual approach of having someone in a treatment facility for a period of time, then released to an open custody. There have been some people that have actually ended up with job skills as a result of participating in a community service work project. And those job skills become transferable into the non-criminal world. We cannot do the work for the young persons. We’re here to help them to make choices. We can list for them what the pros and cons are for decisions that they make but they have to, in the end, make that choice for themselves. While youth court proceedings take place in open court, meaning that members of the public can attend and observe the proceedings, the YCJA does contain specific provisions regarding the publication of a youth’s identity. As a general rule, no identifying information that would reveal that a young person has been dealt with by the youth justice system can be published. The rationale for this general rule is that publication can undermine efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate young people back into the community. However, there are exceptions to the rule against publication. For example, when a youth court imposes an adult sentence, the publication ban is automatically lifted. The YCJA also allows for publication when a youth sentence is imposed for a violent offence, and the judge finds that lifting the publication ban is necessary to protect the public against a significant risk that the young person will commit another violent offence. The Youth Criminal Justice Act recognizes the importance of involving families, victims and communities in the youth criminal justice system. One way in which this is being done is through conferences. Under the Act, a conference is defined as a group of people brought together to give advice to decision-makers such as police officers and judges. A conference can give advice on appropriate extrajudicial measures, conditions for release from pre-trial detention, appropriate sentences, and plans for reintegrating a young person back into the community after being in custody. An extrajudicial conference can be a situation where we get a larger group of people together rather than just a judge and a Crown prosecutor and the people that happen to be in a court room. Get a larger group of people together, in a sense a community, made up of the offender and his supporters, the victim and that person’s supporters and perhaps some other individuals that are interested in the case. It takes a restorative approach, it takes a community approach in the sense that it’s initiated by most of the time the Crown or the judge or the justice of peace. And what they do, they bring the youth, whoever’s involved in the youths life, any community members that’s involved in the youth’s life and before the sentence they take into consideration the opinion or everyone gets to voice their opinion on this so the judge is able to make a more informed decision. The purpose of these conferences is to bring together people who have been involved in an offence in a way that really takes into account that it’s a relationship that’s been harmed not just laws that have been broken. And the meetings are usually attended by three of our youth members, an adult adviser who is there to give input and advice, the offender, and often although it is not necessary, the victim will be there. At the end of the conference we come to an agreement and we come up with a resolution that we can propose to the court. It’s very informal, it’s very personal and so it’s a very different conversation than you might have with a police officer, with a lawyer or with a social worker or especially a judge. There was just so much going through my head, you know, like the biggest thing I was worried about was like, at the time was like, am I going to go to jail. He was just 13 when he stole a brand new truck from a Calgary street. It was the early hours of the morning and he and his young passenger were on a joyride. When he realized that they were being followed by the police, he stepped on the gas and tried to escape. I was going about a hundred and thirty, and I ah, I was going around this wide turn and I ah, caught some gravel on the right side of the road, and the back end kicked out and we skipped the median, and went through ah, three fences, and then we hit a retaining wall going at they said, approximately like a hundred kilometres an hour. The vehicle was totalled. Both boys were almost killed. After he was charged, the young driver was referred to a Calgary program that targets offences that are serious enough to warrant custody. A young person must first enter a guilty plea. They also have to meet their victims in a community conference. The interests and needs of victims are clearly recognized in the YCJA and encourage their participation in community-based approaches. I thought it, like I kinda owed it to em, you know, even though I didn’t know em, you know, like if, if they wanted to you know, I was willing. And then the morning hit and I was just like, well, as we were driving to the place, I was just like scared, you know, I’m like geez I don’t know if I want to do this. I wasn’t worried about meeting him I wanted to see where this person was coming from. What you know we were probably anxious we wanted to meet him to see what was going on and you know what kind of punk was this? And then I got there, and I’m just like, well they were probably just like me when I was little, you know, like not maybe not with some of the crime and whatever, but yeah, they, they were down to earth, and they were pretty cool about it, you know, like I was amazed, like I thought like, I know I would just be flipping out, if someone stole my truck. So we ended up meeting them and he had brought his whole family and me and my husband went and met with them and ah so we got to tell him how we felt about the situation. And we told him how angry and disappointed we were and how we were concerned about his life that he could have killed himself, killed his best friend and you know we some of us shed tears and his mom and it was a great opportunity to get involved with this. Through the community conference, the boy offered to provide personal service to the victim and her family – doing lawn work, even helping them move. When he returned to court for sentencing, the judge took this into consideration. While the youth was still sentenced to 18 months probation, he could have faced time in custody. I think what I did is better than going to jail because I mean, you might not learn if you go to jail you know like you would never like I would never know how it affected them like Mike and Monica. I would never know like now they only had one vehicle to like go to work and like drop their kids off at daycare and just little things like that you know. And like that. that actually made me like learn and like I don’t know it just helped me a lot. I’m glad, like I try to keep busy. Like I haven’t drank. I would like to go back to school because I only have like, three grade 12 courses I need and then I’m graduated. Well, it showed me that I was able to go to work and be on a schedule, and to get to work in time everyday. And it showed me that I could be self-sufficient. Now I know there is a purpose to life. The Youth Criminal Justice Act is the legal foundation upon which Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice System is built. It recognizes that in order to protect society, youth who commit crimes must be held accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. The measures taken should also aim to promote the rehabilitation of youth, to help them successfully reintegrate back into society and prevent them from committing further offences. Across the country, the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, police, lawyers, judges and others are working in close partnership with communities and families to ensure that Canada has a fair and effective youth justice system that helps to keep our streets and communities safe. ♫

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