The Youth Criminal Justice Act The Youth Criminal Justice act was enacted on April 1, 2003 as the

replacement of the previous Youth Offenders act. The federal government made several important changes to the act, such as youth offenders will no longer be transferred to adult courts as the act gives youth court judges the authority to impose adult sentences. Moreover, the act places more emphasis on treatment for violent young offenders compared to the previous act. In sum, the Youth Criminal Justice act was designed to protect and oversee youth offenders under the age of 18 with the principle goals of accountability, rehabilitation and reintegration (Department of Justice). The History of the Youth Criminal Justice Act & its lawmaking process The origin of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) can be traced to the first juvenile justice law in Canada, the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA), in 1908. As the recognition between the difference of youth crimes and adult crimes, society needed a distinct law to deal with youth offenders. In addition, the act emerged as the public became significantly concerned with youth crimes, its legal remedies and the severity of punishments. For example, before 1908, youth offenders convicted of petty theft were sent to same prisons as adult offenders. In turn, it increased the rate of recidivism as youth offenders were heavily influenced by the nature of the prison (Briggs). In 1908, the Juvenile Delinquents Act represented a major philosophical change to youth crimes as youth offenders under the age of 18 were sent to to youth justice courts where the justice system was based on the social welfare approach that centered on the best interest of the child (Makarenko). Moreover, offenders were often charged with delinquency and

children were rarely incarcerated. The act lasted for roughly 75 years before it was amended and replaced by the Youth Offenders Act on April 2, 1984. It was replaced as the JDA had several contradictions to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was introduced in 1982 (Department of Justice). The Youth Offenders act (YOA) represented another change in philosophical principle as it shifted from the welfare approach towards the principle of accountability. The most remarkable change in the YOA was that children could no longer be charged with delinquency, instead, they were charged with violating a specific statute or section of the criminal code. In addition, the maximum sentence for any crime was three yea rs. However, the YOA did not last long as it quickly caused heavy debates within the public and expert field. The public argued that the act was too lenient as many youths were given 3 year sentences for serious crimes such as murder. In addition, the public demanded for a justice system with harder punishments such as longer periods of incarceration and a system based on the principle of retribution (Makarenko). On the contrary, the expert field argued that the act was too harsh as the youth incarceration rate increased significantly surpassing the United States, Australia and many European countries (Makarenko). As a result of the constant debate and heavy sentiments from both sides, it was obvious that there was a need for change, thus, the Youth Criminal Justice Act was initiated. The demand for amendments started in 1997, 6 years after the peak of the youth incarceration rate in Canada. The standing committee on Justice and legal affairs submitted a report to the House of Commons with recommendations to mend the YOA.

On March, 11, 1999 the act was introduced as Bill C-68 by the federal government. It was later reintroduced in October, but had failed due to an election call. Nonetheless, the federal government reintroduced the bill as Bill C-7 before the parliament on February 5, 2001 (Department of Justice). Bill C-7 consisted of more than 160 amendments that addressed the weakness of the YOA. Hence, after two years of preparation and examination, the Youth Criminal Justice Act received Royal Assent and was born on April 1, 2003 (Stats Canada, 2006). Youth Criminal Justice Act and its impact One of the major features of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is that it increased the number of extrajudicial measures available such as police warning, referral to restorative justice agencies, and deferred custody orders. In addition, it urged judges to consider all alternatives to avoid incarceration while it recommended police officers to consider warnings or administer cautions to the offender before laying charges (Makarenko). Clearly, the act benefits youth offenders under the age of 18 as these offenders have higher chances of receiving warnings and restitution demands from the police rather than entering a formal trial. In addition, youth offenders also have the lesser chance of being incarcerated if convicted in the court as judges must exhaust all alternatives to rehabilitate the offender. Another distinct feature of the act is that under the minimum age section, children under the age of twelve cannot be convicted for their crimes (Youth Justice Act). Undoubtedly, children under the age of twelve benefit the most from the act as they are granted immunity from criminal sanctions. The principles goals of the YCJA are to hold offenders accountable, provide various

rehabilitation methods for youth offenders and reintegrate them back into society. Thus, offenders are often sentenced to perform community services and restorative justice programs. Consequently, many parents of youth offenders also benefit from this policy as their children are taught the important lesson to not break the law while receiving a second chance to do good in society. One may argue the act also benefits communities as restorative justice programs aim to bring the offender, victims and the community together with the goal of repairing the damaged relationships. Moreover, society as whole benefits from this policy as statistics showed that the act has significantly reduced the rates of incarceration among youth (Stats Canada, 2007). Hence, more youths are rehabilitated and recidivism declines while society observes a decreasing rate in youth crime. On the other hand, the Youth Criminal Justice Act may not benefit and even harm certain groups of the population. Offenders ages 18 and above does not benefit from the policy as they can¶t be trialed at a youth justice court. In addition, the new act amended the previous 3 year maximum sentences provision. Therefore, longer incarceration sentences can be given by judges depending on the severity of the offense. For example, under the YCJA the maximum sentence for first degree murder is 10 years while second degree murder sets at 7 years as oppose of the previous 3 year maximum condition (Youth Criminal Justice Act). Noticeably, one can argue that the act ³harms´ offenders convicted of serious crimes as they receive longer sentences than in the past. Nevertheless, the ³harm´ can be seen as a benefit to society as these young violent offend are treated ers separately from society for a longer period of time.

Sociological Perspectives and the Youth Criminal Justice Act The functionalist approach states that the law serves as a function of society just like any other segment in society, ultimately contributing to the survival and maintenance as a whole. Sociological theorists such as Comte, Durkheim, Parsons and Merton believe that society is made of interrelated parts and each part is important in preserving the well-being of our economy (Vago & Nelson, p.44) Consistent with the functionalist theory, the YCJA was designed to serve the youth offenders as children are recognized to have a distinct function than the adults in society. Unlike adults, children often make mistakes and break the law without fully understanding the nature of their mistakes and the harm they have caused. Thus, children require special treatments to teach, protect and give them a second chance in society. YCJA serves that exact function as it offers youth offenders a separate and distinct justice system. Moreover, the act protects children from the social stigma of labeling and provides them with a chance to reintegrate into society. The case of the ³Bathtub girl´ serves a good example of the functions of the YCJA. The case involved a 15 year old girl and her 16 year old sister that were trialed and convicted of murdering their mother in 2003 under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Both girls received a 10 year imprisonment sentence, but an appeal court decision released the younger one on parole after four years of imprisonment (Mitchell). The news caught huge media attention when the 15 year old was accepted as a student by the University of Waterloo in 2010. Under the publication prohibition section of the YCJA, publishers were forbidden to publish the name of the girl and any materials that can be used to trace her identity. Clearly, this section served the function of protecting youth offenders that have

served their sentences from social stigmatization by holding their identity in secrecy . Furthermore, because of the YCJA the girl was treated and reintegrated into society as a functional member and a student at the University of Waterloo. The lawmaking process of the Youth Criminal Justice Act evidently reflects on the rationalist model as the act was created as a rational means of protecting youth offenders from social harm. However, a principle difficulty with the rationalist model is that it is the lawmakers and powerful interest groups who define what activities are harmful to the public welfare (Vago & Nelson, p.119). As a result, one can also argue that the YCJA is a reflection of the conflict perspective. The conflict theory proposes that the law is used as a method of social control by the ruling class (Vago & Nelson, p.46). In addition, Karl Marx argues that laws are enacted with the purpose to control the poor working class to maintain the ruling class¶s social advantage in society. Researches have showed that there is a link between youth crime and socio-economic status. In a review of small area geographic analysis in Ottawa and Saskatoon, it revealed that youth crime rates are higher in low socio-economic status and high number of racial minority communities (Department of Justice). Thus, one can argue the majority of youth offenders are from the poor working class. In addition, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is merely a law used by the ruling class to control behaviors of the poor working class youths. Under this perspective, although the YCJA protects youth offenders, the method of protection and legal remedies are generated in the best interest of the ruling class. For example, one may argue this law avoids sending youth offenders to prisons because eventually these youth offenders will become a part of the manual labor

force that is needed by the ruling class. Thus, by avoiding imprisonment and allowing reintegration these youth offenders can enter the labor force earlier and contribute to the overall wealth of the ruling class. In conclusion, one can argue both the functionalist and conflict approach can be used to explain the specific aspects of the Youth Criminal Justice Act from a sociological perspective. However, one might keep in mind that these sociological theorist does not account for the creation of all laws as it merely explain partially how and why laws are created.

Work Cited Briggs, Catherine. Lecture 4 power point. Hist 277 Canadian Legal History Department of Justice. "Exploring the Link between Crime and Socio-Economic Status in Ottawa and Saskatoon: A Small-Area Geographical Analysis." Jan. 08, 2010 Department of Justice. "The Evolution of Juvenile Justice in Canada - The International Cooperation Group." Welcome Page | Page D'accueil. 31 July 2009. Web. 07 Mar 2011. <>. Department of Justice. "Youth Justice: The Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and Background." Welcome Page | Page D'accueil. 09 Sept. 2009. Web. 07 Mar. 2011.

<>. Mitchell, Bob. "µBathtub Girl¶ to Attend Waterloo University -" News, Toronto, GTA, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Canada, World, Breaking - 27, July, 2010 < l oo-u-in-the-fall>

Makarenko, Jay. "Youth Justice in Canada: History & Debates |" | Canada's Premier Political Education Website! 1 Mar. 2007. <>
Vago, Steven, and Adie Nelson. Law and Society. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2011

"Youth Crime in Canada, 2006." Statistics Canada: Canada's National Statistical Agency Statistique Canada : Organisme Statistique National Du Canada. 31 July 2009. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <>. Youth Justice Act." The Nova Scotia Legislature. Web. 07 Mar. 2011.


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