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

Method

The development of this questionnaire took place over many months and involved a number of different people. In the end, of course, as author of the report and the person responsible for the questionnaire, I take full responsibility for its final form. The questionnaire went through more than a dozen drafts, some of which were quite substantial. The most extensive changes to the questionnaire came as a result of feedback which I received from judges in four provinces. These judges responded thoughtfully to early drafts of the questionnaire, patiently explaining to me how particular questions were either ambiguous or incomplete (or both), how certain choices had to be modified or extended, and how specific topics that had not been contained in the earlier drafts needed to be included. In addition, various researchers and youth justice policy people gave important suggestions with regard to the areas in which questions should be asked, as well as the ways in which they should be framed. Although the final product is my responsibility, this "pre-testing" was crucial to the development of the questionnaire.

For practical reasons, it was decided that the questionnaire would be sent to judges (with a covering letter from me) by the Department of Justice, Canada. In order to be able to assure anonymity of the responses, and to alleviate potential concerns by judges that their answers would become the property of the government, the questionnaires were returned to me at the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto. [2]

After several enquiries, a decision was made to send the questionnaire to all provincial court judges in Canada listed on a document obtained from the National Judicial Institute. It is known that some provincial court judges do not hear youth court matters. Nevertheless, no one with whom I spoke appeared to be confident in the accuracy of lists which might be available in some provinces indicating whether which a judge heard youth court matters. I was told that the decision regarding the types of cases a judge hears is often made locally rather than centrally. Aside from the costs of this "over-extensive" definition of the population that we were interested in reaching, we are left with no reliable way of estimating the population size (of judges who have heard youth court matters in the previous 12 months). Hence, a "response rate" cannot be calculated.

The questionnaire was sent to the judges in the language in which their address appeared on the list obtained from the National Judicial Institute. A cover letter, signed by A.N. Doob, was included. It was written in both official languages and explained the purpose of the survey. Judges were invited to request a questionnaire in the other official language in cases in which we had made a mistake. Questionnaires[3] were sent on 27 December 2000. The cutoff for the receipt of questionnaires had been decided in advance: 5 mail deliveries without receiving any additional completed questionnaires. This event occurred on 21 March 2001[4].

For many comparisons, I have collapsed jurisdictions into "regions" of Canada. Generally, it appeared to me that such aggregations made empirical sense. However, the principal reason for doing so was methodological in nature: the sample size was too small for some of the provinces (and both territories that are represented in this survey) to be meaningful. [5]

A survey as long and as complex as this one cannot be "fully" analyzed in the sense that a large, if not infinite, number of analyses could be conducted. As a result, I have presented the findings that appeared to me to be the most interesting or important. However, I am not suggesting that other findings of equal or greater interest do not exist. On the contrary, I welcome suggestions for additional analyses.

In this report, I have often abbreviated the questions that were asked, or the responses that were given. Consequently, when interpreting the responses, it is important to read them in the context of the actual questions that were asked. The questionnaire is included as an appendix. I have, occasionally, quoted comments which judges added to clarify certain answers that they had given. It should be understood that these comments were relatively rare. Few questions elicited more than approximately 10-15 comments from the 238 respondents.


  • [2] The agreement that I have with the Department of Justice ensures that the data (in all forms) remain at the University of Toronto. The results – e.g., this report – are, of course, public. The interpretation of these findings are my own and should not be seen as the only possible interpretation.
  • [3] The agreement that I have with the Department of Justice ensures that the data (in all forms) remain at the University of Toronto. The results - e.g., this report - are, of course, public. The interpretation of these findings are my own and should not be seen as the only possible interpretation.
  • A copy of the questionnaire is included as an appendix. I have generally indicated the question numbers in footnotes.
  • [4] Three questionnaires were received after this date and could not, unfortunately, be included in this report. Data entry had already been completed and analysis had begun (or, in one case, had been completed) at the time that these additional questionnaires arrived.
  • [5] Those wanting specific findings for particular jurisdictions should contact me.
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