Comparison of Case Processing Under the Young Offenders Act and the First Six Months of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Introduction

The purpose of this report is to provide the Youth Justice Policy Section of the federal Department of Justice with quantitative comparisons between the functioning of the youth justice system under the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act – in fiscal year 1999-2000 and in the first six months of the new legislation in 2003 (April to September), respectively. The data sources are the case processing baseline study undertaken in 2002 on behalf of the Youth Justice Policy Section and a monitoring study done by the Research and Statistics Division of Justice Canada in the fall of 2003. The research questions were identified by federal government officials and are appended to this report.

The analysis describes case processing in terms of the percentages of cases being dealt with by the youth courts. These data can be used to analyze changes in relative case characteristics and outcomes, but not changes in the volume of cases. For example, there may be only a tangential relationship between the percentages reported here and the number of cases being dealt with by youth correctional staff.

1. Data

In essence, there are three datasets explored in this report:

  • (a) the baseline sample of FY 1999-2000 YOA cases (N = 1,843).

The six month YCJA sample can be thought of as two sub-samples:

  • (b) those cases that had their first court appearance after the new legislation began on April 1, 2003 and were concluded before data collection in the fall of the same year (N = 395, the “pure” post-YCJA group), and
  • (c) the cases that began under the Young Offenders Act and were concluded after the start-up of the YCJA (N = 548).

Only group (b), the “pure” post-YCJA cases, was used for most analysis of case and court processing characteristics because all police and some of the court decisions of the latter group were made under the Young Offenders Act – not under the new legislation. The total six month monitoring sample, groups (b) and (c) combined (N = 943), was employed for sentencing analysis since all sentences were imposed under the new legislation. [1]

2. Analysis

The baseline and six months’ monitoring data were merged into one SPSS dataset. The monitoring dataset represented a major challenge to the analysis because the data had not been cleaned and a number of variables were not in the same format as the baseline study. As a consequence, some time was required to make the information from the two time periods comparable.

The analysis was hampered by apparent differences in the interpretation of variables by data collectors in the monitoring phase. In order to improve data quality, the author had to make assumptions as to the meaning of the data; the accuracy of these assumptions is not known. In addition, the small numbers of cases in the “pure” post-YCJA group precluded analysis by court location in some instances.

3. Caveats

The cases dealt with in the first six months of the YCJA may not be representative of all cases dealt with under the new legislation. To give one example, the timing of data collection means that cases with longer court processes are excluded. Furthermore, during the initial months of implementation, many parts of the youth justice system were still adjusting to the new legislation; delays in processing, uncertainty about new provisions, and other factors may have affected the data.

The changes over time observed in this report should not be viewed as necessarily caused by the new legislation. Other factors may have intervened between 1999 and the proclamation of the YCJA in April 2003. It is known that in several jurisdictions, there were substantial reductions in the number of cases entering both probation and custody as well as decreases in the number of youth charged by police.

This report provides details of case processing in terms of proportions (percentages) of cases being dealt with by the youth courts. (The actual numbers of young persons being dealt with in these urban youth courts are not readily available for most jurisdictions.) These data can be used to analyze changes in relative case characteristics and outcomes, but not changes in the volume of cases.

The courts included in this research deal with about one out of seven youth cases in Canada (excluding Québec). [2] Although this proportion is substantial, the case characteristics and outcomes described below are not necessarily representative of all courts in the country.


  • [1] Although not reported here in any detail, groups (b) and (c) differed on a number of dimensions which suggest that group (c) were more likely to include less serious cases. For example, a smaller percentage of group (c) had prior convictions.

  • [2] Calculated from Youth Court Survey data for FY 1999-2000, provided by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.


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