The Youth Justice System in Canada determines the course of action for the youth with proper guidance and implementation of strategies. Subsequent governments have shown their commitment to ensure a balanced youth justice system that would build safer communities by holding youth accountable for their actions. The main objective of the youth justice system is to help young offenders to reform themselves and join the mainstream of the society. The management programs offered under the youth justice system emphasizes on the areas of risk and the needs of the young people.
The important aspects of the youth justice system are the treatment services, educational programs and rehabilitation measures. Treatment services are integrated into the rehabilitative programs for the youth. Birth of the Youth Criminal Justice Act “The House of Commons passed the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) on February 4, 2002. The new law replaced the old Young Offenders Act. It came into force on April 1, 2003 after full preparation for its implementation. The Youth Criminal Justice Act is an extension of the Young Offenders Act with significant reforms to address the weaknesses existed in the previous law.
It provides the legislative framework for a more effective youth justice system” (Barnhorst & Sherrie, 2004). A number of reviews and consultations had taken place before the final implementation of the Act. “In 1996, a review of the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Justice System took place under the government jurisdiction. In 1998, Department of Justice Canada presented a strategy for the Renewal of Youth Justice” (Yogis, 2003). All those reports emphasized on the need for a new law to replace the existing law.
“The first version of the YCJA was introduced in March 1999. The bill was reintroduced in the Parliament in October 1999. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a hearing on the bill after a second reading. Finally, it was introduced in February 2001 with over 160 amendments to the suggestions made in the previous hearings” (Goff, 2004). The Young Offenders Act The Young Offenders Act focused on the responsibility of young persons for consequences of their behavior. “The Act was in force from April 1, 1984 till March 31, 2003.
It provided the principles for governing custody and community-based programs and services. The Young Offenders Act was intended in striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of the youth aged 12 to 17” (Yogis, 2003). Need for the creation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act There were several weaknesses in the Young Offenders Act that forced the government to bring a new resolution to revamp the youth justice system. The old provisions of the youth justice system lacked a clear and comprehensive youth justice philosophy.
Incarceration was another problem that was overused in Canada. “It has been reported that Canada has the highest youth incarceration in the Western world, surpassing the United States” (Barnhorst & Sherrie, 2004). The courts were over-loaded with minor cases that could be easily dealt outside the courts. Sentencing decisions by the courts had resulted in disparities in youth sentencing. “The Young Offenders Act did not provide effective rehabilitation to the youth who were released from custody” (Goff, 2004).
The old youth justice system had another flaw. “The process of transfer to the adult system resulted in unfairness and complexity. It failed to make a clear distinction between serious offences and less serious offences” (Goff, 2004). The old youth justice system did not provide sufficient recognition to the concerns of the victims. Their problems were left unresolved. Hence, both the public and political establishments felt the need for a new legislation to reform the system.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act effectively addresses these problems. The new legislation is seen as a part of the government's broader approach to youth crime and the reform process in the youth justice system. Besides the legislative factors, there are some non-legislative factors in this broad approach of the government. These are increased funding to the provinces, prevention of crime, innovative programs, public education campaigns and special packages for aboriginal communities.
The main objective of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is to reduce the use of court and incarceration for young offenders. Those offenders get severe punishments for less serious crimes. It is very necessary to differentiate between the small and big offenders based on their nature of offence. This is a gray area, which was never given proper attention. However, the Youth Criminal Justice Act focuses on this point. “If the preliminary reports are to be believed, the YCJA has resulted in significant increases in community-based responses to youth crime.
Even a large number of judges acknowledged that the new act makes the sentencing principles more accountable” (Barnhorst & Sherrie, 2004). Important Features of the Youth Criminal Justice Act It is necessary for any legislation to provide clarity in the fundamental principles. The declaration of principles is the main source to guide decision-making under the legislation. These principles include the importance of accountability, protection of the society and the special needs of young people.