The Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”), which replaces the Young Offenders Act, came into force on April 1, 2003. The YCJA is designed to address the following problems in the youth justice system:
- Lack of clear and coherent youth justice philosophy
- Over use of courts for minor offences
- Disparities in youth sentencing
- Lack of effective reintegration of youth after release from custody
- Unfairness, complexity and delay in the process of transfers to adult court
- No clear distinction between serious violent offences and less serious offences
- Insufficient recognition of the concerns and interests of victims
In response to these concerns, the YCJA contains a preamble and declaration of principles intended to clarify the principles and objectives of the youth justice system. Key objectives include :
- To prevent crime, rehabilitate and reintegrate young persons into society and ensure meaningful consequences for offences
- To recognize that youth lack the maturity of adults, which requires different measures of accountability and special emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration
- Appropriate accountability requires that the consequences of an offence be fair and in proportion to the seriousness of the offence
To implement these principles, the YCJA makes changes in a number of key areas. First, the YCJA increases the use of extra-judicial measures for less serious offences. Extra-judicial measures may be used in all cases where they are sufficient to hold the young person accountable, and are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
Second, the Act authorizes the use of conferences, in which a group of advisors assist a police officer, judge, prosecutor or youth worker making a decision under the YCJA, such as conditions on release from custody or appropriate sentencing.
A third area of reform is in youth sentencing. In response to concerns about Canada’s high youth incarceration rate, the YCJA sets out sentencing principles designed to hold young persons accountable, ensure meaningful consequences and promote rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Act also makes significant changes in the sentencing of youth as adults. Instead of holding a transfer hearing prior to trial, a youth court will now first determine whether the young person is guilty of the offence. Then, under certain circumstances, it is open to the court to impose an adult sentence.
The YCJA includes several provisions designed to assist the reintegration of a young person into the community. Every period of custody is to be followed by a period of supervision in the community. When a young person enters custody, a youth worker creates a reintegration plan with the youth in order to maximize the chances of successful reintegration.
Lastly, the Act enhances the protection of the identity of youth. Under the Young Offenders Act, the identity of a young person transferred to adult court could be published before the court determined whether the young person was guilty of the offence. Under the YCJA, such information cannot be published until after a youth court has found the young person guilty and imposed an adult sentence.
(click here for full text of the judgment)