The Impact of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on Police Charging Practices with Young Persons: A Preliminary Statistical Assessment

Executive Summary

The objective of this research was to provide a preliminary assessment, based on national statistical data, of the extent to which police practices in Canada relating to the use of charges or other measures are changing in response to the new legislative direction provided by the Youth Criminal Justice Act . Data for 1986 to 2003 from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey were analyzed in order to identify changes which occurred in 2003 in statistical indicators of police charging practices with young persons.

The data indicate that the YCJA has been remarkably successful in bringing about changes in police charging practices with young persons which are consistent with its objectives, principles and provisions. In 2003, there was a substantial reduction at the national level and in most provinces and territories in the number of young persons charged or recommended by police to be charged, and a corresponding increase in the use of extrajudicial measures with apprehended young persons. There is no evidence of an increase at the national level in youth crime in 2003, or of net-widening by police in response to the coming into force of the YCJA . The substitution of extrajudicial measures for the laying of charges has been calibrated by police so that levels of charging were reduced in 2003 by more than one-third for minor offences such as theft under and drug-related offences, while levels of charging for serious property and violent offences (other than common assault) decreased only slightly.

In three provinces, while the levels of charging of young persons decreased in 2003, we could not confidently attribute the changes to the impact of the YCJA , because the use of charges with apprehended young persons had been decreasing for some years before 2003. In three other provinces or territories, there was no evidence of a reduction in charging of young persons in 2003.

We cannot be sure that the large reduction in 2003 in charging of young persons in incidents involving drug-related offences was entirely due to the YCJA , because the Act came into force only two months before the Cannabis Reform Bill was introduced in Parliament. Although this Bill was not passed, its introduction probably resulted in a reduction in the use of charges in incidents of possession of small amounts of cannabis. Our expectations based on the legislation were not fulfilled in the case of young persons accused of offences against the administration of justice – mainly violations of bail and probation conditions, and fail to appear for court. The data showed little change from previous years in the way in which police respond to youth accused of this type of offence.

With these minor exceptions, the initial impact of the YCJA on police charging practices with young persons appears to have been remarkably strong, immediate, and consistent with its objectives, principles, and provisions.

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