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

Sentencing

The after Act data in this section represent all case information collected in the six months’ monitoring study because all sentences were imposed under the aegis of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

1. All Sentences

The Youth Criminal Justice Act introduced several new sentences – reprimands, non-residential orders (known as attendance centre orders), intensive support and supervision, and deferred custody and supervision. [6] Almost 20 percent of cases disposed of under the YCJA had one or more of these new sentences imposed (Table 17). Also notable is the significant post-legislation reduction in proportions of youth receiving probation, time served and custody (or custody and supervision, as the sentence is now known). The other changes may be due to differences in data collection methods in the two samples.

Table 17: Detailed Distribution of Sentences before and after the YCJA, All Courts Combined
Percentage of cases receiving: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
Absolute discharge 3.4 2.6
Reprimand NA 4.3
Conditional discharge 7.0 7.1
Fine, restitution 14.6* 10.0*
Community service 32.8* 27.9*
Probation 73.7* 63.7*
Intensive support & supervision program
(ISSP)
NA 4.5
Time served 17.2* 12.3*
Attendance centre NA 5.4
Deferred custody & supervision order NA 4.5
Custody, custody & supervision 31.8* 19.7*
Total number of sentenced cases 1552 578

Notes:

  • * Shaded pairs are statistically significant at p<.05, according to the chi-square statistic.

  • NA = not applicable; the sentence did not exist under the Young Offenders Act.

  • The percentages add up to more than 100% because the same case can result in multiple sentences.

Table 18: Detailed Distribution of Sentences before and after the YCJA, by Court Location

Table 18, above, contains the same information as Table 17 except that it is provided for each youth court separately. Reprimands occurred in the downtown Toronto youth court much more often than elsewhere; attendance centre orders were most common in Edmonton; intensive support and supervision programs were most frequent in downtown Vancouver; and, deferred custody and supervision (DCSO) was marginally more common in Scarborough and Surrey, although it is not a high frequency sentence in any court. The frequent use of attendance centre orders in Edmonton is explained by the development of a high profile centre in that community. The centre staff are responsible for both supervision of ISSP cases and persons on bail. No ISSP programs are available in Halifax or Toronto/Scarborough.

Number of Current Charges

A case characteristic that is frequently ignored in sentencing analysis is the effect of the number of charges on justice system decision-making. Table 19 shows that both before and after the new Act, the more current charges, the more serious the sentence. More pertinent is the finding that on average more charges were involved in cases receiving a monetary sanction, probation, time served, and custody after the YCJA began.

Table 19: The Number of Current Charges involved in Sentenced Cases before and after the YCJA
Percentage of cases receiving: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
  Average number of charges in entire case
Absolute discharge 2.8 3.1
Reprimand   3.4
Conditional discharge 2.4 2.3
Fine, restitution 4.1 5.1
Community service 4.1 4.6
Probation 5.0 6.1
Time served 6.0 7.6
Attendance centre   7.1
ISSP   6.2
Deferred custody & supervision order   10.0
Custody, custody & supervision 6.2 9.2
Average number of charges for all
sentenced cases
4.3 4.4

Note:

  • Shaded pairs are statistically significant at p<.05, according to the chi-square statistic.

  • Most sentenced cases receive multiple sentences, so that the same case can be counted in more than one of these sentences.

2. Custody

With regard to the incidence of the use of custody in the two time periods, no changes occurred in Scarborough and Winnipeg – the percentages are almost identical pre- and post-legislation when the DCSO cases are combined with custody and supervision (the second last row of Table 18). In Edmonton, if DCSO is combined with custody, there is no statistically significant difference before and after the Act. In Halifax, downtown Toronto, downtown Vancouver and Surrey, there were significant decreases in custody sentences. While there were only 30 sentenced cases in the downtown Toronto sample in the post-law months, it is remarkable that none resulted in custody, compared to one-third of sentenced cases in the baseline survey.

The next analysis presents the relationships between type of offence and custodial sentences.

Charges that Resulted in Custody and DCSO: Offence Profiles of Custody Cases

Thus far, the analysis has used the case as the unit of count but in Table 20 the offence is the unit of count. The data show the percentage of each major offence category that received custody under the YOA and the YCJA. Both indictable person and property charges were more likely to result in custody under the YCJA, whereas the opposite was true for probation breaches and other administration of justice offences such as failure to attend court or abide by bail conditions.

Table 20: The Percentage of Charges in Each Major Offence Category that Resulted in Custody/Deferred Custody
  YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
  Column percentages
Indictable person 5.9 11.0
Indictable property 12.8 25.7
Indictable weapons or drugs 2.7 0.5
Hybrid person 9.1 8.7
Hybrid/summary property 16.8 17.5
Hybrid/summary weapons or drugs 4.1 4.2
Probation breach 27.2 19.5
Other administration of justice 20.2 12.7
Other offence types 1.1 0.2
Total percent 99.9 % 100.0%
Total number of charges 1308 401

Sentenced Cases (Community vs. DCSO/Custody) Controlling for the Offence

The rest of this section returns to the case as the unit of count (Table 21). Here, the research question is “when the major offence category is introduced as a control, does the percentage of custody/DCSO outcomes differ in the two time periods?” The data are to be interpreted as, for example: 61 percent of cases that included a conviction for an indictable offence against the person under the YOA received a custody sentence whereas after the YCJA, 46 percent of cases that included an indictable person offence resulted in a DCSO or a custody and supervision order. A significant decrease in custody use is found in most of the major offence categories. Property offences, both indictable and hybrid, were an important exception. This does not necessarily mean that property offences received custody in equal proportions under the YOA and YCJA; rather, cases involving convictions on these offences received custody in similar proportions.

Table 21: The Percentage of Cases Receiving DCSO/Custody before and after the YCJA, by the Major Offence Category

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(a) Indictable offence against the person (more serious violent): No indictable offence against the person 1+ indictable offence against the person
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 29.4% 19.8% 61.3% 46.3%
Total number of cases 1433 525 119 67
Chi-square, df=1, p value 17.93, p<.001 3.95, p<.04.

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(b) Indictable offence against property No indictable offence against property 1+ indictable offence against property
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 28.2% 16.8% 46.3% 41.4%
Total number of cases 1243 447 309 145
Chi-square, df=1, p value 22.90, p<.001 0.96, n.s.

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(c) Hybrid offence against the person (less serious violent) No hybrid offence against the person 1+ hybrid offence against the person
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 32.6% 24.2% 29.4% 19.0%
Total number of cases 1188 434 364 158
Chi-square, df=1, p value 10.57, p<.001 6.17, p<.05

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(d) Hybrid offence against property No hybrid offence against property 1+ hybrid offence against property
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 34.8% 21.9% 27.9% 24.4%
Total number of cases 886 383 666 209
Chi-square, df=1, p value 20.62, p<.001 1.00, n.s.

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(e) Probation breach No probation breach 1+ probation breach
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 24.1% 18.1% 50.6% 39.7%
Total number of cases 1099 452 453 140
Chi-square, df=1, p value 6.58, p<.02 6.91, p<.01

% of DCSO/custody cases: YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
(f) Bail violation No bail violation 1+ bail violation
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 27.3% 22.0% 44.9% 24.8%
Total number of cases 1153 427 399 165
Chi-square, df=1, p value 4.57, p<.04 19.65, p<.001

Note: Shaded pairs are statistically significant at p<.05, according to the chi-square statistic.

The denominator of each of the percentages is the number of cases in the pertinent major offence category.

The relationships between DCSO/custody sentences and all indictable current offences and offences against the person are shown in Table 22 for the major urban courts Custody was imposed proportionately less frequently in cases with an indictable offence in the two British Columbia courts and the sample as a whole. Similarly, a lower proportion of cases involving violence received custody in Halifax, the two B.C. courts and the total sample.

The Number of Current Charges in Custody/DCSO cases

Compared to custody cases in the YOA period, cases receiving DCSO or custody under the YCJA had significantly more charges involved in their case in Winnipeg, Edmonton and the sample overall (Table 23).

Sentenced Cases (Community vs. DCSO/Custody) Controlling for Prior Record

On Tables 23 and 24 are found the relationships between prior record and the use of custody, first for the sample overall and then broken down for each youth court. Table 24(a) shows that few youth with no past convictions received custody in either time period (13 and 11 percent). When we look at those with a prior conviction, after the YCJA young persons with a record were less likely to receive custody than under the YOA (47 compared to 35 percent). Similarly, in panel (b) where the sample is categorized into those with two or fewer versus three or more prior guilty findings, significantly lower percentages of each group were sentenced to custody after the Act.

Table 24: Cases Receiving DCSO/Custody by Prior Record before and after the YCJA, All Courts Combined

  YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
  % of DCSO/custody cases:
(a) Prior record: No prior record 1+ prior conviction
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 12.6% 10.8% 46.5%§ 34.6%§
Total number of cases 605 240 864 321

  YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
  % of DCSO/custody cases:
(b) Pattern of prior offences: 0 to 2 prior
convictions
3+ prior convictions
Sentenced to custody/DCSO 17.1%§ 12.4%§ 59.3%§ 45.7%§
Total number of cases 923 356 528 199

§ Note: Shaded pairs are statistically significant at p<.05, according to the chi-square statistic.

These trends were largely replicated in individual youth courts (Table 25). Among cases with a prior record, a decrease in custody usage was apparent in Halifax, downtown Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Those with three or more prior findings of guilt were less likely to receive custody in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.

There was no statistically significant relationship between the average number of prior convictions and custody sentences in any court (panel (c) in Table 25).

One of the four criteria for custody in the YCJA is whether the youth committed a serious indictable offence and has a history that indicates a pattern of offences. This factor was operationalized as whether the youth had a current conviction for an indictable offence of any kind and the youth had three of more prior convictions (Table 26). Both before and after the legislation came into effect, about 70 percent of cases meeting these criteria were sentenced to custody. In other words, a substantial majority of youth meeting both conditions received custody regardless of the time period.

Table 25: The Percentage of Cases Receiving DCSO or Custody by Prior Record before and after the YCJA, by Court Location

Table 26: The Percentage of Cases with Three or More Prior Convictions and an Indictable Current Conviction that Received Custody before and after the YCJA, All Courts combined
3+ prior convictions and indictable
current conviction?
YOA
sample
YCJA
sample
  Column percentages
No 28.4 29.9
Yes, both 3+ priors & indictable
current conviction
71.6 70.1
Total percent 100.0% 100.0%
Total number of cases with both 3+
priors & indictable current conviction
169 77
Chi-square, df=1, p value 0.06, n.s.

3. Probation

A large majority of youth receive probation regardless of the time period. In two courts, significant reductions in the use of probation were found after the YCJA even for more serious offences such as indictable and violent offences (Table 27, panels a and b). In Vancouver/Surrey proportionately fewer young persons convicted of an indictable offence received probation after the law began; in Edmonton, considerably fewer youth convicted of an offence against the person received probation.

Probation Conditions

Anecdotal evidence from system professionals surveyed after the proclamation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act has suggested that more and more onerous conditions are now placed on probationers. The data in Tables 28 and 29 support their perceptions.

The only common probation condition that showed a decrease after proclamation was the fairly standard “attend school/look for or maintain employment” in Winnipeg, Edmonton and the total sample. The imposition of curfews increased in Edmonton, Vancouver/Surrey and the sample overall. The use of (presumably) offence-related conditions of non-communication with victims or others and area restrictions also rose in some youth courts. “No weapons” significantly increased everywhere but in Toronto. Abstention from alcohol or illicit drugs dramatically increased in Edmonton and Vancouver/Surrey (a threefold increase). [7] See Table 28.

In all courts, the average number of probation conditions per case went up after the law and the change was significant in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver/Surrey and the sample as a whole (Table 29, above).

The average number of months that youth are sentenced to probation did not change over time – the mean was 13 months in both 1999 and 2003. There are large differences among sites in the length of probation orders. At the low end of the spectrum, the average was about 10 months in Edmonton and Vancouver/Surrey but in Winnipeg the average was 17 months. These data are not shown in table form.

Breaches of Probation

In this analysis, the three time periods are presented separately because of the substantial differences in the percentage of probation breach charges in the two datasets contained in the first six months’ survey (Table 30). The YOA and “pure” after Act proportions were almost identical – approximately one-third of cases involved at least one breach charge.[8] However, breaches on current charges are under-estimated in the YCJA sample because the timing of data collection prevented a follow-up of more than a few months. They therefore differed from the baseline study, where youth receiving probation on instant charges were followed for at least two years to determine subsequent breach of probation charges.

In the group whose cases began before the new law and concluded afterwards, only 14 percent involved a breach of probation; this group differs in significant ways from the “proceedings all after the Act” group; e.g., the former are more likely to have no prior convictions and more likely to have had a trial date scheduled.

Table 30: Cases with Current Breach of Probation Charges: YOA Cases (Baseline),Cases Beginning after the YCJA, and Cases Beginning before the YCJA but Concluded after Proclamation
  Baseline
cases
First 6 months cases
  YOA
sample
Proceedings
all after Act
Began before
proclamation
  Column percentages
No breach of probation charge 67.4 68.1 85.6
One or more breach charge 32.6 31.9 14.4
Total percent 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Total number of cases 1843 395 548

Note: The shaded values are statistically significant at p<.05.

The conditions that were allegedly breached did not alter greatly over time when the before Act and “pure” post-YCJA cases are compared (Table 31).[9] The change in reporting violations seems to have started before the law came into effect: 28 percent in the baseline sample, 19 percent in the group whose cases began before the law, and 15 percent in the “pure” group were charged with failure to report to probation, to notify probation of change of address or to stay in the jurisdiction. There was a significant decrease in the proportion of cases breached for failure to complete community service or to pay a fine or to pay restitution after the new legislation began. These findings could well be an artefact of the timing of data collection – provincial directors or others may not have yet instigated probation breach charges for these failures to abide by probation orders.

Almost all the charges of failure to “keep the peace and be of good behaviour” occurred in Halifax.[10] The police practice there is to lay this charge when a probationer is charged with other offences. This does not occur to any great extent in other police services.

Table 31: Types of Probation Conditions Breached: YOA Cases (Baseline), Cases Beginning after the YCJA, and Cases Beginning before the YCJA but Concluded after Proclamation
  Baseline
cases
First 6 months cases
Condition allegedly breached: YOA
sample
Proceedings
all after Act
Began before
proclamation
  % of probation breach cases
Keep the peace & be of good behaviour 14.3 11.5 16.9
Report to probation, report change of
address, stay in jurisdiction
27.7ƒ 14.8ƒ 19.3
Reside with parent, reside where
directed, reside in group or foster home
21.0 16.4 9.6
Attend school or obtain, maintain
employment
12.3 6.6 2.4
Attend counselling or assessment for
counselling, attend specific program,
attend program as directed by probation
9.0 6.6 2.4
Abstain from alcohol, non-prescription
drugs
4.8 8.2 3.6
Non-communication with victim or other
person
6.5 3.3 7.2
Curfew 29.8 27.9 13.3
Area restriction 2.7 0.8 1.2
Failed to complete community service,
pay restitution or fine
18.5ƒ 7.4ƒ 19.3
Total number of cases 600 122 83

ƒ Note: The shaded values are statistically significant at p<.05.

These data are the main conditions alleged to have been breached; the youth may not have been convicted of the charge(s).

In summary, the data do not permit firm conclusions on changes pre- and post-YCJA on the conditions associated with probation violations.

5. Probation and Custody Sentences

This section looks at the proportions of cases that received custody and probation as well as those who were on probation at the time of their apprehension. Many of the latter group would be still on probation at the conclusion of their custody sentence.

Except in the two Toronto-area courts, there was a decrease in the proportion of custody cases that received both probation and custody. The differences were statistically significant in Edmonton, Vancouver/Surrey and the total sample (Table 32 (a)). In the overall sample, 68 percent of cases received both sentences compared to 53 percent after the Act.

In both the pre- and post-law groups, approximately one-half or more of cases sentenced to custody were already on probation and there was no difference by time period other than in Halifax where fewer custody cases were on probation at apprehension in the YCJA sample. See Table 32 (b).

The third row of data in Table 32 shows the overall percentage of cases that involved probation and custody, either as a result of the current sentence or as a result of previous probation orders that were (presumably) still in force. The large majority of custody cases – from 74 to 100 percent depending on the court and the time period – had probation orders after leaving custody on their current offences. Again, Halifax was the exceptional court; there was a significant drop in the percentage after the YCJA came into effect.

Thus, under the YCJA most youth sentenced to custody remain under the authority of the court beyond the conclusion of the community portion of their custody sentences.

Table 32: Probation and Custody Sentences before and after the YCJA, by Court Location


  • [6] Another new sentencing option is the intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision order, or IRCS. No young person in the monitoring sample received this sentence.

  • [7] Some of these changes may be due to differences in the interpretation of coding instructions among coders in the two time periods.

  • [8] These percentages differ from those in Tables 3 and 4 because in the latter, only "instant" current charges are considered and here we look at all charges laid during the survey periods.

  • [9] In a substantial proportion of cases in the first six months' sample, the condition of probation breached was not specified. Caution should be used in drawing definitive conclusions.

  • [10] Data not shown in table form.


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