Policy Analysis: Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a federal legislation that deals with deviance among youth. This policy is the third legislation to come into existence that separate criminal laws and courts for youth and adults. The purpose of this policy is to protect the public, issue purposeful consequences to the offenders, meet the needs of the victims, and distinguish between youth and adult justice.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is still fairly new, as a result its success still has yet to be precisely determined. Introduction Crime and deviance is an avoidable trait that will always exist within society. As a result, measures have been taken to protect members of society by way of minimizing crimes. In previous years, all offenders, young and old were judged under the same law and within the same courts. However, it was eventually recognized that children and adults require separate justice systems.

From this discovery, the Youth Criminal Justice Act was eventually developed. The purpose of this Act is to protect the public, issue purposeful consequences to the offenders, meet the needs of the victims, and distinguish between youth and adult justice. This paper will critically analyze this legislation from a number of aspects including a general overview, historically, theoretically, economically, politically and the outcome of the Act thus far.

Policy Overview The Youth Criminal Justice Act addresses a number of issues within the juvenile justice system. First and foremost, it addresses the issue of youth deviance. Moreover, it addresses the philosophy of youth justice and the fact that it fails to adequately articulate its meaning; Canada having the most number of young people incarcerated in the Western Hemisphere; courts being used more than necessary for issues that can be dealt with more ffectively outside of the courts; inconsistencies and unjust sentencing; the need for more programs to be in place to assist within the community after being released from custody; youth being unjustly transferred to the adult justice system; the lack of distinction between serious and less serious crimes; and the lack of intention placed on the concerns and needs of victims. (Endres, 2004) The causes for these problems can be identified in a number of areas.

Many assume that more Canadian youth are incarcerated than in past years and in comparison to the United States due to an increase in youth criminal activity (McCormick and Siegel, 2006). However, this is not the case. The cause of an increased level of youth imprisonment was that the previous act, The Young Offenders Act, was too punitive based (Endres, 2004). It focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation, family support and other community resources. Another concern was the lack of reintegration for youth once they have been released from custody.

This is caused by a lack of programs in place to assist this process, which is connected to a decrease in the amount of financial contribution from the federal government (Campbell, 2005). The courts were used unnecessarily with youth cases because Canada relied on court and custody based responses for non-violent crimes instead of using community resources such as family group conferencing (Campbell, 2005). The unfairness in youth sentencing and transfers to the adult justice system was likely the result of inconsistencies among judges (Campbell, 2005).

Each province and their judges held a great deal of power in determining consequences for breaking the law (Campbell, 2005). The cause for the line between serious and less serious offences to be smeared is simple; the Young Offenders Act was not detailed enough (Roberts, 2003). In the end, decisions were often based on mere discretion. As for the lack of concern for victims, this was caused due to the focus of the Young Offenders Act being on punishing the offender (Campbell, 2005). It was assumed that once the offender has been dealt with, all other factors will fall into place.

Historical Analysis The history of the Youth Criminal Justice Act dates back many years. Prior to the 19th century, legal doctrine asserted that criminals performed rationally when committing crimes and therefore ought to be held accountable. Furthermore, it was believed that law breakers considered the risks and the benefits of their plans before carrying out the offence and for this reason as well should be held accountable for their actions. These policies applied to both adults and children alike. Both were punished equally and imprisoned together.

In the early 1900’s, the Doli Incapax was introduced. That is it was determined by law that children under the age of 10 years old could not form the intent to be labeled as conducting criminal behaviors. Not much later, in 1908, legislation and courts that separated youth and adults was enacted for the first time ever; the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The Juvenile Delinquents Act was created because it was determined that children could be managed under their own laws. The basis of this act was that youth crime was the result of detrimental situations of life and poor role models.

Policy makers believed that these young offenders could be reformed by intervention strategies within the community and that imprisonment was the least favorable option. The youth were deemed as in need of guidance and assistance, but most importantly, their best interest was most important. (Campbell, 2005) When dealing with youth criminal cases, judges used undefined sentences. As a result of this, sentences varied and were inconsistent (Endres, 2004). Furthermore, traditional court room rules were not being abided by.

Lawyers were often discouraged from representing their young clients (Campbell, 2005). Also, many rulings were influenced by parens patriae , where as the government would assume legal guardianship over young offenders who they deemed as being in need of protection or who did not have any parents (Campbell, 2005). The Juvenile Delinquents Act was critiqued as being too lenient on some youth and inconsistent with sentences within provinces and across Canada (Endres, 2004). This therefore caused it to lack the due process guarantee.

Furthermore, the Act also played a role in creating tensions surrounding social and child welfare issues and legal principles (Endres, 2004). Also, the way in which delinquency was defined was far too broad, therefore causing some serious crimes to be down played and less serious offences to be amplified. Thus, in 1984, the Young Offenders Act was introduced, with hopes of patching up the holes in its predecessor. This new youth law was very distinct from the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The Young Offenders Act reflected a purely criminal law perspective, different rom the welfare orientated standpoint that the Juvenile Delinquents Act held (Roberts, 2003).

With the new legislation, there was a major emphasis on due process and it asserted that young offenders be held accountable for their conduct, although not in the same way in which adults would be held responsible (Roberts, 2003). The idea of reforming these young people was not a priority under the Young Offenders Act. The Young Offenders Act recognized the legal rights of youth and reflected that which was outlined within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding due process and equal treatment.

Sentences were more consistent and the legislation itself was more detailed and specific. This regulated each area of the youth justice system including arrest, police interrogation, sentencing and the right to legal representation. (Endres, 2004). The Young Offenders Act was criticized for a number of things as discussed above. However the main and most significant concern with this act was that it was inadequate and too punitive, as detention centres were reaching capacity despite a decrease in youth crime and far too many young offenders being transferred to adult courts and handed lengthy sentences.

As a result, there was a need for a new legislation for young offenders that would be a balance between the overly lenient Juvenile Delinquents Act and the punishment based Young Offenders Act. The year 2003, saw the enactment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. (Endres, 2004) Theoretical Analysis and Policy Process Theories are key to almost any existing policy. With regards to youth crime in particular, they assist in understanding what causes crime, they help make sense of the seriousness of a crime, they explain the social impact of a crime; all of which enables society to better control, deter and/ or prevent criminal behaviour.

There are a number of theories that have played a role within the youth justice system including; positivism, psychoanalytic theory, social disorganization and opportunity theory to name a few. However, the most prominent theories that informs that assumptions and goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and its processes are conflict theory, labeling theory, social construction and feminist theory. (Campbell, 2005) During the early 19th century, immigrant adults and children from Europe and rural areas of the provinces flooded the larger cities for employment and opportunity.

The upper class examined the immigrants and feared that these changes would affect their own socio-economical position. They also placed blame on the working class parents for youth deviance issues. This immigrant movement prompted criminologists to utilize conflict theory as a way to address the issues. Conflict theory focuses on the struggle between different groups within society, especially religious, social, political, economical and ethnic struggle. Through this theory, the law is perceived as a tool to control behaviors of individuals who do not have power or are marginalized.

This resulted in the Child Savers Act, reformers and Prisoners and Association, which in turn led to Industrial Schools as a means to control working class young people. Proceeding Industrial Schools was the Probation Movement and the Anti-Institutional Discourse. All of this, including the application of conflict theory, assisted in establishing separate courts and laws for young offenders therefore initiated the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which eventually has turned into the Youth Criminal Justice Act. (Campbell, 2005)

Left realism, a theory within conflict theory, emerged to address creating research, developing social and criminal policies that tackle consequences of crime and explain them through social policy. As a result, this theory as well has been significant in creating a basis for the Youth Criminal Justice System. (Campbell, 2005) Labeling theory and social constructionism have also been prominent in the formulation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Labeling theory refers to society applying a name or label to someone and in turn, the individual acts on that label, fulfilling the name that was applied to him or her.

Social constructionism denotes the study of society as it is perceived inside its members. Applying the label criminal or deviant to an individual is a social construction. Society has accepted the fact that these behaviors are a normal part of life. (Campbell, 2005) The media is a major source in creating labels for youth and enforcing social construction. Through out the years, within the media, youth delinquency has been embellished.

As a result, labeling theory and social constructionism was taken into consideration when the Youth Criminal Justice Act was created. It was done so that within the Act, great detail was involved in explaining just ways in which to sentence youth and laws ensuring the privacy rights of young offenders are protected. (Campbell, 2005) Feminist theory is concerned with gender differences, specifically, adequate and equal treatment of women. Social structures discriminated against girls and women which often caused them to be deviant. Prior to the middle of the 20th century females were extremely marginalized. The youth justice system failed to deal with the issues faced by girls.

It has been especially difficult for girls of racial or ethnic minority to deal with the youth justice system. Within the Declaration of Principle, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is a section that specifically calls for respect and adequate response to the needs of gender and ethnic minorities. (Campbell, 2005) These theories have contributed a significant amount to the shape and process of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Furthermore, the theories discussed have influenced the present youth justice system in ways that causes it to be very distinct from past youth justice legislation.

Economical Analysis Funding for programs that stem from the Youth Criminal Justice Act are generally provided by the government through three different transfers. The first of which is through the Youth Justice Services Funding Program. The second is through supplementary agreements that support sentencing options like intensive rehabilitation, open or secure custody, orders of supervision or restorative mechanisms. The third is provided through the Youth Justice Renewal Fund. The first two sources described issue funding to provinces and territories.

The last source listed is provided based on discretion and need. They issue funding to individual projects as long as federal regulations are met. (Department of Justice Canada, 2006) Political Analysis The Youth Criminal Justice Act takes on a reform liberal ideology. This perspective suggests that individual ability and achievement and access to opportunity are paramount and that resources should be re-distributed, thereby making use of the taxation system and the welfare system (Mullaly, 2007).

Furthermore, humans are perceived as being ethical and balanced; therefore if they are surrounded by or at least have access to adequate social conditions, they are likely to better themselves (Mullaly, 2007). These views are evident in the Declaration of Principle section of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It outlines the importance of the community’s role when responding to crime among youth, such as restorative justice, the value of the role of the victim in repairing harm and the significance of the familial role, including an interest in strengthening family relationships (Roberts, 2003).

Overall, the principles of the Youth criminal Justice System focuses on the importance of those responding to youth who have committed offenses to reinforce respect, promote a compensation of harm view, demonstrate meaningfulness and respect diversity (Campbell, 2005). Neo-liberalism is another political perspective that has assisted in shaping the Youth Criminal Justice Act. New liberal perspectives suggest that individuals ought to be responsible for their own situations, which is consistent with the “rights focused” Youth Criminal Justice Act legislation (Campbell, 2005).

Within youth justice legislation, young offenders are held responsible for their actions. Moreover, in some cases, parents are also held accountable for their children’s actions (Campbell, 2005). One of the sections within the Youth Criminal Justice Act states that the government is able to seek reimbursement from parents for legal costs that their children incurred (Campbell, 2005). This part of legislation directly reflects the views of neo liberalism. Evaluation The introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act has thus far proved to be an overall success in responding to the problems within the youth justice system.

One of the most significant problems it was created to address was the high level of youth incarceration. In the first month of its enactment, the number of imprisoned youth dropped by 20%. This occurred because of a number of reasons; youth were given warnings from police and extrajudicial measures instead of being arrested and going to court, less use of pretrial imprisonment, increase in releasing the youth on supervision, judges utilizing more community centered sentences and the fact that young offenders were allowed to spend the last third of their sentence under supervision within the community.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was also expected to protect the legal rights of youth. This legislation does recognize their right to due process; however, this recognition is weaker in comparison to the Young Offenders Act (Endres, 2004). Another problem the Youth Criminal Justice Act intended to address was the non- existent philosophy within youth justice. This new legislation is extremely detailed and has a Declaration of Principle that clarifies a number of issues that had previously been blurred.

Furthermore, the increased detail of this Act has created much more consistency in sentencing throughout courts in Canada. At this point the Youth Criminal Justice Act has many components to it and has only been in place for four years. As a result it is unclear as to whether or not there are any unintended or latent consequences from its implementation. As of right now, the Act appears to be a success; however the outcome of the future will provide a more definite answer to its triumph.

This legislation could be improved by implementing stronger provisions regarding the rights of young offenders. As mentioned above, its predecessor, the Young Offenders Act, was stronger when it came to protecting young offender rights. It is important that when new legislation is created, each aspect is improved and none are left behind. Also, this policy could be improved if there was more funding available to create more programs and better quality detention centres. It is important that a great deal of money be invested in these youth because, they are Canada’s future.

Conclusion For the most part, the Youth Criminal Justice Act has met the expectations that it initially set out to meet. After analyzing this act from many different angles, it is easy to see that it has taken many years for the youth justice system to get to the point at which it is at now. Seldom is there a legislation created that is meeting the needs of all of its target population; however, as of now, the Youth Criminal Justice Act comes quite close. Only Time will tell.