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

Summary of Main Findings

This report was prepared in response to questions on the differences in youth court processing before and after the Youth Criminal Justice Act that were raised by officials of the Youth Justice Policy Section, Department of Justice Canada. Two surveys in five major centres collected quantitative data from justice system files for cases dealt with under the Young Offenders Act and under the YCJA. The random sample of YOA data was collected in 2002 but involved cases processed in fiscal year 1999-2000. The YCJA cases were dealt with by youth courts from April to September-November 2003 in the first six months of the new law. The urban courts studied were Halifax, Toronto and Scarborough, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver and Surrey.

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.

Characteristics of Cases Entering Youth Court

  • Overall, the percentage of youth with a prior finding of guilt did not differ in the two time periods. Data problems may have obscured changes in individual court locations.
  • There was no change in the percentage of young persons charged with the most serious, "pure" indictable offences.
  • Less serious hybrid charges such as theft under and possession under $5,000 showed a decrease overall and in some individual courts.
  • Administration of justice charges increased in the total sample and in some court locations. In only one court was there a downward trend (bail-related charges in Winnipeg).
  • The average number of charges laid did not change in the sample as a whole.

Pre-trial Detention

  • Police detained youth for a bail hearing in roughly the same proportions in 2003 as they had in 1999. However, in the total sample and in the Edmonton court, proportionately more youth were detained by police after the YCJA came into effect.
  • There was no indication that the number of release conditions imposed on police undertakings was influenced by the YCJA.
  • The court decision to release at a bail hearing did not change over time although in two courts there was an indication that the percentage detained until their case was over had increased.
  • The average number of court-imposed release conditions did not change and there was little evidence that the use of specific conditions had altered.
  • The average number of days detained were not significantly different under the YOA and the YCJA.

Findings of Guilt

  • Compared to YOA processing, in the first six months of the YCJA fewer cases resulted in a conviction in Toronto, Scarborough and Edmonton; similar patterns were evident in Halifax and Winnipeg but the changes were not statistically significant.
  • The analysis of factors affecting adjudication decisions found that the number of current charges was most important in both periods - the larger the number of charges, the greater the likelihood that the case resulted in at least one conviction. The nature or apparent seriousness of the charges did not significantly predict findings of guilt in either time period. These data - that is, the decreased proportions of guilty findings - suggest that there may have been uncertainty among key decision-makers, primarily Crown prosecutors, in the first months of the Act.

Sentencing

  • About 20 percent of YCJA cases received one of the new sentences (reprimand, intensive support and supervision, attendance centre order or a deferred custody and supervision order). No case in the YCJA sample received an intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision (IRCS) order.
  • When the use of custody is operationalized as the proportion of sentenced cases that received custody including deferred custody, there were significant decreases in Halifax, downtown Toronto, and Vancouver/Surrey.
  • When offence type was controlled, there were significant reductions in the percentage of cases receiving custody in most major offence categories. The main exceptions were offences against the rights of property.
  • When we look at the profile of charges that resulted custody/DCSO in the two time periods, in the YCJA sample, indictable person and property charges were more likely to receive custody, and administration of justice charges less likely.
  • A large majority of young persons receive a probation order, regardless of their offence category and the time period.
  • The number of probation conditions significantly increased after the legislation in three court locations and in the sample as a whole.
  • The types of probation conditions also changed, for example: proportionately more probationers were required to keep curfew, abstain from alcohol and non-prescription drugs and attend programs as directed by the probation officer.
  • The types of probation conditions that were breached in the post-law period did not differ from before the law, but the six months time period is too short for follow-up, so this finding should be viewed cautiously.
  • At 13 months per case, the average number of months of probation orders was the same in the two time periods.
  • 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 either because the court had ordered custody and supervision and probation or because they were already on probation. The proportions on probation after custody were almost identical - 85 percent before and 82 percent after the Act began.

Factors Affecting Custodial Sentences

  • There were substantial differences by court location in the factors significantly associated with receiving a custodial sentence before and after the YCJA. This summary presents the findings for the sample overall.
  • In the pre-law sample, having a prior custody sentence and having more current charges were better predictors of custody than other factors.
  • In the post-law sample, having three or more prior convictions and a current indictable conviction as well as having more current charges were the best predictors of custody. The strength of the former factor - which operationalizes one of the criteria for custody in the Youth Criminal Justice Act - suggests that the courts are giving this factor more weight than they may have under the Young Offenders Act.
  • Having a current conviction for breach of probation was a significant predictor of custody in the pre-law group but not in the post-legislation sample.
  • Having a current conviction for a bail violation was unrelated to custody before the Act, but after the YCJA there was a significant negative relationship.
  • Having one or more social or psychological problem predicted custody under the YOA but not under the YCJA.
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