Pre-Trial Detention Under the Young Offenders Act: A Study of Urban Courts

3. Characteristics of Youth Detained by Police: What Factors Affect Police Decisions to Detain? (cont'd)

3. Characteristics of Youth Detained by Police: What Factors Affect Police Decisions to Detain? (cont'd)

3.4 Factors Associated with the Form of Police Release and Police Release Conditions

3.4.1 Type of Offence

Table 3.4 shows the relationships between the form in which young persons were released by police and the nature of the most serious offence at arrest. The major offence categories are ordered in rough order of seriousness. It is immediately apparent that there are strong relationships between the most serious charge and the type of police release. For example:

  • Young persons accused of indictable offences against the person are very much more likely to be released on a police undertaking (71 percent) than are other young persons. The next highest usage of undertakings involved hybrid offences against the person (51 percent).
  • Persons alleged to have committed an indictable offence against property were also above average in the use of police undertakings with conditions (43 percent).
  • The above percentages can be compared with hybrid property and other ("victimless") offences, where fewer than 15 percent of the sample were released on a police undertaking. One-half of these young persons were released at the scene of the alleged offence with an appearance notice.
  • In the majority of cases where administration of justice was the most serious charge, the young person was released on a summons.

Therefore, the form of police release was closely associated with the seriousness of the alleged offence.

Table 3.4

3.4.2 Factors Associated with Police Release Conditions

In Section 2, we reported that 13 percent of the total sample were released on a police undertaking. The most common conditions were non-communication with a specified person, a restriction on the places where the youth could go (area restriction), and a requirement to notify the police if the youth moved or changed schools or employment. Using logistic regression, the factors affecting each major release conditions were explored. Table 3.5 shows that few factors were associated with the conditions. Being black or of Aboriginal background was associated with the requirement to notify police of changes in address etc. and with the area restriction condition when other factors were controlled. Prior record only influenced the prohibition against weapons. Having a current offence against the person was strongly related to no-contact conditions - the accused was not supposed to contact the victim or a co-accused. None of the available factors explained the requirement to report to police or probation. Having a current indictable offence was the sole legal factor associated with the prohibition against alcohol and non-prescription drugs. The socio-legal factor, alleged substance abuse, was not associated with the "no alcohol/no drugs" condition. [44]

Table 3.5

The estimates of the variance explained by each model, in the bottom row of Table 3.5, are very low, indicating that factors other than case characteristics explain the selection of release conditions. Habitual or idiosyncratic practices of police in each community probably account for the selection of conditions to impose on young persons released on a police undertaking.

3.5 Summary

Two-way and multivariate analyses of police detention decisions were undertaken for the sample as a whole and for each court individually. Several social characteristics of the persons apprehended by police were related to police detention in the two-way tables, but were omitted from the multivariate analysis because of the large number of missing values. Of the social and socio-legal factors, only sex, age, race and living arrangements were routinely entered into the logistic regressions.

Age affected police decisions in two courts but in opposite directions - older youth were more likely to be held in Halifax, whereas younger persons were held in downtown Vancouver. Race, being black or Aboriginal, was positively associated with police detention in Toronto. Those living with parents or other family were significantly less likely to be detained than were those in less conventional situations.

With regard to legal factors, several were significantly associated with detention by police although the type varied from court to court.

  • In Halifax-Dartmouth, more serious current charges, larger numbers of current charges, and the existence of a warrant increased the likelihood of police detention. Older youth were also more likely to be held by police.
  • In Toronto and Scarborough (combined), more serious current charges, larger numbers of current charges, the length and seriousness of the prior record, the existence of a warrant, and having outstanding charges all raised the probability of police detention. Race - being black - and living in unconventional arrangements independently influenced the decision when all other variables were controlled.
  • Police detention in Winnipeg was affected by the number of current charges, the length and seriousness of the prior record, the bail history/prior custody experience of the youth, and by living arrangements.
  • In Edmonton, more serious current charges, larger numbers of current charges, having a bail violation charge at arrest, and having some current legal involvement increased the likelihood of pre-trial detention.
  • In Vancouver, where eight out of ten cases were detained, those with more serious charges and younger persons had a greater likelihood of being held by police.
  • In Surrey, only serious current charges and having some current legal involvement influenced the detention decision.
  • In the total sample, more serious current charges, more current charges, more serious or numerous prior convictions, having a current bail violation, having an arrest warrant, more numerous outstanding charges, and living arrangements increased the likelihood of being detained.

Thus, in four of the six courts, variables related to the accused’s prior record had no influence whereas in all six locations, at least one characteristic of the current charges raised the likelihood of police detention.

An examination of the amount of variance explained by the variables employed in the regression models found that, in most sites, the models were moderately successful in "explaining" variations. It is probable that other factors not available to the research affected police detention.

There was a strong relationship between the form of police release and the seriousness of the current charge. The more serious the current charge, the greater the likelihood that the accused was released on a police undertaking, which is the most "serious" form of police release.

The analysis of the factors affecting the selection of specific release conditions found few significant relationships between case and personal characteristics and each condition. We conclude that typical police practices may contribute to the selection of conditions imposed in police undertakings.


[44] In this analysis, the not knowns were assumed to be not abusers.

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