The 2008 National Justice Survey: The Youth Justice System in Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act

3. Results

3. Results

3.1 Familiarity with the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Respondents  were asked to indicate their level of familiarity with the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) using a ten-point scale with 1 representing “not at all familiar” and 10 representing “very familiar”.  For the purposes of data presentation, ten-point scales used in the survey have been grouped into low (1, 2, 3), moderate (4, 5, 6, 7), and high (8, 9, 10) levels throughout the report.  In general, familiarity with the YCJA among the population was relatively low in Canada.  Approximately 1 in 10 respondents (9%) felt they had a high degree of familiarity with the YCJA while 43% indicated moderate familiarity and almost half (48%) indicated low familiarity.

Respondents were also asked to identify their primary source of information about the youth criminal justice system in Canada (see Figure 1).  More than half (59%) relied primarily on newspapers, magazines or news stories from television or radio.  Very few (8%) relied on more academic sources, such as university courses, government reports or books, and even less relied on first hand experience (5%).

Figure 1:  Primary Source of Information about the Youth Criminal Justice System

Figure 1, chart representing the distribution of what respondents considered to be their primary source for information about the Youth Criminal Justice System[Long description for Figure 1]

Familiarity with the YCJA varied considerably based on the respondent’s main source of information about the youth justice system.  For example, one third of those that relied primarily on personal experience with the youth justice system (33%) and one-quarter of those that consulted more academic sources (24%) indicated a high level of familiarity with the YCJA.

3.2 Confidence in the Youth Criminal Justice System

Figure 2:  Confidence in Specific Public Services in Canada

Figure 2, chart representing the distribution of confidence in specific public services in Canada[Long description for Figure 2]

When asked about confidence in particular public services in Canada, respondents expressed the highest confidence in the school system and the lowest confidence in the youth criminal justice system (see Figure 2).  Only 7% of respondents indicated high confidence in the youth justice system compared to 26% who indicated high confidence in the public school system.  The percentage of respondents indicating high confidence levels for the child welfare system (12%), the adult justice system (12%) and the mental health system (10%) were relatively similar. 

In order to gain a general understanding of the public’s confidence in the specific responsibilities of the police, youth courts, and the youth correctional system, additional questions were asked on each component.  Respondents indicated greater confidence in the ability of police to detect and arrest youth than in their ability to prevent youth crime (see Figure 3). They also expressed a higher level of confidence in the ability of youth courts to determine guilt compared to their ability to determine appropriate sentences.  In fact, nearly four in ten respondents (37%) indicated low confidence in the courts ability to “pass the right sentence.”

Figure 3:  Confidence in the Police and Youth Court

POLICE
YOUTH COURT

Figure 3, chart representing the distribution of confidence in the police and youth court[Long description for Figure 3]

When asked about the youth correctional system, which included youth prisons and community corrections, such as open custody group homes and probation, respondents indicated low confidence particularly in their abilities to rehabilitate offenders.  For example, only 6% of respondents indicated high confidence in youth prisons to rehabilitate youth and 7% expressed high confidence in community corrections to rehabilitate youth (see Figure 4).  Only about 1 on 10 indicated high confidence in the prison system’s ability to supervise youth while in jail (11%) and in the community (8%). 

Figure 4:  Confidence in the Youth Correctional System (Prison and Community Corrections)

COMMUNITY
PRISON

Figure 4, chart representing the distribution of confidence in the youth correctional system (prison and community corrections).[Long description for Figure 4]

In order to understand the relative impacts of participation in the criminal justice system on specific answers, respondents were asked if they had, within the last five years, been an accused, a parent of an accused, a witness, a juror, a victim or had worked within the justice system in some capacity.  Table 3 indicates that approximately 16% of the respondents had one or more experiences within the justice system within the past five years, primarily as a victim, a witness or a parent of a youth accused of a crime.

Table 3: Involvement in the Criminal Justice System
Involvement in the Justice System N (%)
As a victim of youth crime 436 (6%)
As a witness to a youth crime 390 (6%)
As a parent of a youth accused 331 (5%)
As a professional in the youth justice system 177 (3%)
As a youth accused 93 (1%)
As a juror in a youth trial 44 (1%)
Any involvement 1,109 (16%)

1. These categories are not mutually exclusive as respondents could select multiple categories.

3.3 Youth Crime in Canada

In order to examine the perceptions of Canadians, respondents were asked a series of questions regarding some of the factors that may play a role in the incidence of youth crime.  As indicated in Figure 5, the top three factors considered to play a “strong role” in contributing to youth crime by respondents were illegal drugs (71%), youth gangs (71%), and a negative family environment (65%).

Figure  5:  Percentage of Respondents who Indicated the Following Factors Play a “Strong Role” in Contributing to Youth Crime

Figure 5, chart representing the percentage of respondents who indicated that specific factors play a strong role in contributing to youth crime.[Long description for Figure 5]

More than half of the respondents also felt that a lack of consequences from the justice system (56%) and poverty (54%) played a strong role in contributing to youth crime, while precisely one-half (50%) felt that problem neighbourhoods were a strong factor.  Finally, one-third (33%) believed that mental health issues played a strong role in contributing to youth crime.

Respondents were further asked to ascribe responsibility to particular groups or institutions in preventing youth crime.  Figure 6 provides the proportion of respondents who indicated a high degree of responsibility for each category.  Generally, most respondents felt that parents (88%) and to a lesser extent the youth themselves (77%), had a high degree of responsibility in preventing youth crime.  The justice system, including the law (68%), the Courts (59%), the police (56%) and the correctional system (55%) were seen as moderately responsible in this regard. Social programs (50%), the school system (43%) and religious institutions (24%) were considered least responsible in the prevention of youth crime.

Figure 6:  Percentage of Respondents who Indicated that the Following Have a “High Degree of Responsibility” in Preventing youth crime

Figure 6, chart representing the percentage of respondents who indicated that specific factors have a high degree of responsibility in preventing youth crime.[Long description for Figure 6]

In order to assess the perceived level of youth crime in Canada, questions were posed on crime trends over the previous five years.  A strong perception emerged from respondents that youth crime in general, and all forms of youth crime (e.g., violent crime, property crime and drug crime), have increased within the last five years (see Figure 7).  In fact, only a small minority (5%) felt that youth crime in general had decreased over the last five years. This was also true for property crime (e.g., break and enter and theft), violent crime (e.g., assault, robbery, murder) and drug crime (e.g., trafficking, possession).  Approximately eight in ten respondents (81%) also believed that involvement in youth gangs had increased over the last five years. 

Figure 7:  Perceived Change in Overall and Specific Youth Crimes in the Past 5 Years

Figure 7, chart representing the perceived change in overall and specific youth crimes in the past 5 years.[Long description for Figure 7]

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