Youth Court Judges’ Views of the Youth Justice system: The results of a survey

The use of court

One of the major concerns about the operation of the youth justice system, signaled by the Minister of Justice’s "Strategy" document in May 1998 as something which would be addressed in the YCJA, was the view that there were too many cases coming to youth court in Canada that could better be dealt with outside of the formal court system. During 1998–9, for example, one case was brought to youth court for every 23 youths aged 12 through 17 (inclusive) in the country. The exceptional jurisdiction on this dimension is Quebec in which one case was brought to youth court in 1998–9 for each 50 youths aged 12–17 (inclusive) in the province.

In this context, it is not surprising, as shown in the following table, that Quebec judges were considerably less likely [9] to indicate that they were seeing large numbers of cases that could be dealt with just as adequately elsewhere. [10]

Judges' views on proportion of cases that could be dealt with outside of court
  Proportion of cases that could be dealt with adequately outside of court Total
Most – all About half Few – none
Region Atlantic

Count
% within Region

3
0.3 %
14
48.3 %
12
41.4 %
29
100 %
Quebec Count
% within Region
2
9.1 %
4
18.2 %
16
72.7 %
22
100 %
Ontario Count
% within Region
8
11.9 %
29
43.3 %
30
44.8 %
67
100 %
Prairies Count
% within Region
8
14.8 %
20
37.0 %
26
48.1 %
54
100 %
BC Count
% within Region
10
18.9 %
21
39.6 %
22
41.5 %
53
100 %
Territories Count
% within Region
1
33.3 %
2
66.7 %
  3
100 %
Total Count
% within Region
32
14 %
90
39.5 %
106
46.5 %
228
100 %

Note: Variation across jurisdictions was not significant.

The comparison between Quebec and the rest of Canada is clearly illustrated in the next table.

Judges' views on proportion of cases that could be dealt with outside of court
  Proportion of cases that could be dealt with adequately outside of court Total
Most – all About half Few – none
Quebec compared to Rest of Canada Quebec

Count
Row percents

2
9.1 %
4
18.2 %
16
72.7 %
22
100 %
Rest of Canada

Count
Row percents

30
14.6 %
86
41.7 %
90
43.7 %
206
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

32
14.0 %
90
39.5 %
106
46.5 %
228
100 %

Note: Chi–square = 6.83, df=3, p<.05

Judges would appear to attribute the overuse of the court, in part, to the inadequacy of alternative measures or other non–court measures [11]. It was not clear whether these responses referred to an inadequacy in the number of available non–court programs or the frequency in which these programs were being used. Nonetheless, the point was clear: those judges who indicated that large numbers of cases could be dealt with outside of the court were most critical of the unavailability and/or under–use of alternative measures programs. For those judges who hear cases in more than one location, we also asked their views of the adequacy of alternatives in both the smallest as well as the largest locations in which they hear cases [12]. Not surprisingly, judges who indicate that there are few cases coming before them that could be adequately handled outside of the court were more likely to indicate that there were adequate alternative (non–court) programs. [13]

Adequacy of alternative measures as a function of judges' views on proportion of cases that could be handled outside court
  Adequate alternative measures? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don’t know
Proportion of cases that could be dealt with adequately outside court Most/almost all/all

Count
Row percents

2
6.3 %
3
9.4 %
27
84.4 %
32
100 %
About half

Count
Row percents

7
7.5 %
14
15.1 %
72
77.4 %
93
100 %
Few–none

Count
Row percents

37
34.6 %
39
36.4 %
31
29 %
107
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

46
19.8 %
56
24.1 %
130
56 %
232
100 %

Chi–square = 60.77, df=4, p<.001

This relationship holds when one looks separately at the views of Quebec judges, on the one hand, and judges in the rest of Canada, on the other. (Note, however, that almost all Quebec judges were content with the availability of alternative measures.)

Adequacy of alternative measures
Quebec compared to Rest of Canada Adequate alternative measures? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don't know
Quebec Proportion of cases that could be dealt with adequately outside court Most/almost all/all

Count
Row percents

1
50 %
1
50 %
  2
100 %
About half

Count
Row percents

3
75 %
1
25 %
  4
100 %
Few–none

Count
Row percents

15
93.8 %
1
6.3 %
  16
100 %
Total Count
Row percents
19
86.4 %
3
13.6 %
  22
100 %
Rest of Canada

Proportion of cases that could be dealt with adequately outside court

Most/almost all/all

Count
Row percents

1
3.3 %
2
6.7 %
27
90 %
30
100 %
About half

Count
Row percents

3
3.5 %
13
15.1 %
70
81.4 %
86
100 %
Few–none

Count
Row percents

22
24.4 %
37
41.1 %
31
34.4 %
90
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

26
12.6 %
52
25.2 %
128
62.1 %
206
100 %

Adequacy of alternative measures (Largest or only community)
  Adequate alternative measures? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don’t know
Region Atlantic

Count
Row percents

2
6.7 %
10
23.3 %
18
60.0 %
30
100 %
Quebec

Count
Row percents

21
87.,5 %
3
12.5 %
  24
100 %
Ontario

Count
Row percents

7
10.3 %
17
25.0 %
44
67.7 %
68
100 %
Prairies

Count
Row percents

9
16.4 %
14
25.5 %
32
58.2 %
55
100 %
BC

Count
Row percents

7
13.2 %
11
20.8 %
35
66.0 %
53
100 %
Territory

Count
Row percents

1
25.0 %
  3
75.0%
4
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

47
20.1 %
55
23.5 %
132
56.4 %
234
100 %

Adequacy of alternative measures (Smallest community)
  Adequate alternative measures (smallest community)? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don’t know
Region Atlantic

Count
Row percents

1
4.0 %
5
20.0%
19
76.0 %
25
100 %
Quebec

Count
Row percents

13
72.2 %
4
22.2 %
1
5.6 %
18
100 %
Ontario

Count
Row percents

4
12.9 %
6
19.4 %
21
67.7 %
31
100 %
Prairies

Count
Row percents

6
14.6 %
7
17.1 %
28
68.3 %
41
100 %
BC

Count
Row percents

3
6.8 %
8
18.2 %
33
75.0 %
44
100 %
Territory

Count
Row percents

1
25.0 %
  3
75.0 %
4
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

28
17.2 %
30
18.4 %
105
64.4 %
163
100 %

Adequacy of alternative measures (Largest or only community)
  Adequate alternative measures? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don’t know
Quebec compared to Rest of Canada Quebec

Count
Row percents

21
87.5 %
3
12.5 %
  24
100 %
Rest of Canada

Count
Row percents

26
12.4 %
52
24.8 %
132
62.9 %
210
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

47
20.1 %
55
23.5 %
132
56.6 %
234
100 %

Chi–square = 76.97, df=2, p<.001

Adequacy of alternative measures (Smallest community)
  Adequate alternative measures (smallest community)? Total
Definitely yes Probably yes No, don’t know
Quebec compared to Rest of Canada Quebec

Count
Row percents

13
72.2 %
4
22.2 %
1
5.6 %
18
100 %
Rest of Canada

Count
Row percents

15
10.3 %
26
15.1 %
104
77.4 %
145
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

28
17.2 %
30
18.41 %
105
64.4 %
163
100 %

Chi–square = 46.33, df=2, p<.001

Overall, it would appear that in every region of Canada other than Quebec, a substantial portion of the respondents thought that many (half or more) of the cases coming before them could have been dealt with "just as adequately (or more adequately) outside of the youth court." Even in Quebec, where judges were most likely to believe that adequate alternative measures or other "non–court" programs in the community existed, approximately a quarter of the judges indicated that many of the cases they were hearing could be dealt with outside of the court. The proportion holding this view was considerably higher for the rest of Canada.

There were 159 judges who sat in at least two different communities and who rated the adequacy of the "alternative measures or other non–court… measures" for both their largest and smallest communities.

For those judges who sit in at least two communities: "Are there adequate alternative or other "non-court" measures…" (n=159)
  Largest community
in which
judge sits
Smallest community
in which
judge sits
Definitely yes 22% 18%
Probably yes 25% 20%
Probably not 26% 25%
Definitely not 27% 38%
Total 100% 100%

Treating the four responses as a "scale" (running from 1=definitely yes to 4=definitely no), judges saw non–court alternatives as being more adequate in the larger community (mean = 2.58) than in the smaller community (2.82; t = 3.08, df=158, p <.01). Interestingly, this rather straightforward finding did not hold when I looked at the responses from judges who sat in only one community (or whose communities were of roughly the same size).

Judges were also asked [14] whether they thought that youths who had been through the court process had benefited from the overall experience in court. As can be seen in the table below, only in Quebec did a majority of judges think that most youths benefited from the court experience.

Judges' views of proportion of youth benefitting from court
  Proportion of youth for whom court had beneficial impact Total
All, almost all, most About half A few, almost none, none
Region Atlantic

Count
Row percents

9
34.6 %
14
53.8 %
3
11.5 %
26
100 %
Quebec

Count
Row percents

15
65.2 %
7
30.4 %
1
4.3 %
23
100 %
Ontario

Count
Row percents

19
33.9 %
24
42.9 %
13
23.2 %
56
100 %
Prairies

Count
Row percents

10
22.2 %
23
51.1 %
12
26.7 %
45
100 %
BC

Count
Row percents

10
24.4 %
19
46.3 %
12
29.3 %
41
100 %
Territory

Count
Row percents

  2
50 %
2
50 %
4
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

63
32.3 %
89
45.6 %
43
22.1 %
195
100 %

Chi square (excluding the territories) [15]= 17.87, df=8, p<.05

Judges’ views of proportion of youth benefitting from court
 

Proportion of youth for whom court had beneficial impact

Total
All, almost all, most About half A few, almost none, none
Quebec compared to Rest of Canada Quebec

Count
Row percents

15
65.2 %
7
30.4 %
1
4.3 %
23
100 %
Rest of Canada

Count
Row percents

48
27.9 %
82
47.7 %
42
24.4 %
172
100 %
Total

Count
Row percents

63
32.3 %
89
45.6 %
43
22.1 %
195
100 %

Chi square = 13.77, df=2, p<.001

However, the belief that court had a beneficial impact on youths was not related to the judge having a welfare orientation in the imposition of custodial sentences. A "welfare orientation" in the use of custody at sentencing was determined by combining the responses of the judge to three questions: the proportion of cases in which the youth needed a rehabilitative program available in custody, the proportion of cases in which the youth was out of control and needed a custodial sentence to break the cycle of behaviour, and the proportion of cases in which the youth’s living conditions were such that it was necessary to arrange for a more stable environment. [16]

Perceived beneficial impact of court as a function of welfare orientation in use of custody
  Proportion of youth for whom court had beneficial impact Total
All, almost all, most About half A few, almost none, none
Welfare orientation in the use of Custody Low Count
Row percents
11
23.4 %
24
51.1 %
12
25.5  %
47
100 %
Medium Count
Row percents
26
35.1 %
33
44.6 %
15
20.3 %
74
100 %
High Count
Row percents
26
35.6 %
30
41.1 %
17
23.3  %
73
100  %
Total Count
Row percents
63
32.5 %
87
44.8 %
44
22.7 %
194
100 %

Chi–square = 2.58, df=4, not significant


  • [9] I have used standard "statistical tests" to evaluate statements such as "more likely" or "less likely" etc. Variation between groups can be explained in two distinct ways. On the one hand, it can be thought of as "real" (i.e., there is a genuine difference between the groups). On the other hand, it can be seen as occurring "by chance." If a coin was flipped 10 times and it came up heads 7 of these 10 times, we would probably think that it came up heads more than the "expected" score of 5 "by chance." Alternatively, if we were to flip the coin 1000 times, and it came up heads 700 times, we would probably be more likely to say that the coin was, in some way, more likely to come up heads. "More likely" can be quantified by saying that the chances of it being "this extreme or more extreme" is very small – e.g., p <.01. In normal language, one is unlikely to get an "effect" this large (or larger) completely by chance. In probability language, the probability of getting an effect this large or larger purely by chance is less than one in a hundred. Hence, an effect that is "significant" is an effect that is unlikely to be due to the variation that we expect, and see, within each group. In other words, a "real" difference exists between the groups.
  • [10] Question A1
  • [11] Question A2
  • [12] Question A2a
  • [13] Table not included
  • [14] Question H1
  • [15] The territories were excluded from this test (and many other tests) of significance for methodological reasons. The small number of judges sampled from the territories does not allow for statistical tests of this type without producing biased estimates. However, the descriptive data are included for descriptive purposes.
  • [16] These were all part of Question D4 concerning the reasons for custody.
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