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

3. Results (cont'd)

3. Results (cont'd)

3.4 Justice System Responses to Youth Crimea

Given that questions were posed on the factors contributing to crime, the degree of responsibility for particular groups or institutions, and youth crime trends, respondents were further questioned on appropriate responses to youth crime (see Figure 8).  Providing educational and/or employment skills to youth involved in the justice system was rated as highly effective in promoting acceptable behaviour among youth by over two-thirds of respondents (68%).  Informal programs that encourage youth to repair the harm that was caused by their crime (e.g., restorative justice programs) was rated as highly effective by 58% of respondents while supervision in the community with conditions such as attending school, abstaining from drugs and abiding by a curfew (e.g., probation) was rated highly effective by 54%.  Youth and adult prisons were rated much less effective as only 22% and 18% respectively rated them as highly effective in promoting acceptable behaviour among youth.

Figure 8:  Percentage of Respondents who Indicated the Following Responses would be “Highly Effective” in Promoting Acceptable Behaviour among Youth

Figure 8, chart representing the percentage of respondents who indicated that specific responses could be highly effective in promoting acceptable behaviour among youth.[Long description of Figure 8]

The Youth Criminal Justice Act contains a set of principles which are designed to guide justice professionals, such as judges and police officers, in the day-to-day decision-making process.  Respondents were asked to rate their agreement with a set of statements regarding specific sentencing principles.  Clearly, reducing criminal behaviour through rehabilitative efforts is supported by respondents as 93% agreed with the statement that rehabilitation is an important goal of the youth justice system.  At the same time, 82% indicated that protecting society should be the focus of the youth criminal justice system.  With regards to custody, approximately seven out of ten respondents (71%) agreed that jail should only be used for violent and repeat offenders and just under half (48%) felt that jail was an effective method of correcting behaviour.  Only one-third of respondents (33%) agreed with the statement that youth should be held less accountable than adults. 

Figure 9:  Agreement with Statements about Youth Sentencing Principles

When asked about the extent to which specific factors should influence a youth’s sentence, one factor that stood among all of the choices - 84% of respondents felt that the sentence should increase when the crime involved violence (see Figure 10).  Less than half stated that a sentence should be increased in cases where the crime is common in the community (42%), when the youth has a drug addiction (36%) or when the youth committed the crime with his or her parents (39%).  However, more than half of respondents (58%) also felt that sentences should be decreased when the youth participated in a program to repair the harm caused by the criminal behavior, such as a restorative justice program or community service program.  A relatively large proportion also thought that sentences should be reduced if youth attended a substance abuse program (41%), if it was the youth’s first offence (38%) or if the youth was abused by his/her parents (34%).

Figure 10:  Extent to which Specific Factors Should Influence a Youth’s Sentence

There is a range of ways in which the youth justice system can respond to crime, such as charging the youth and proceeding through the courts, or using more informal measures outside the court process, such as warnings, cautions, and referrals to community programs.  Respondents were generally supportive of informal measures as three-quarters (75%) agreed that it would allow the courts to focus resources on more serious offences and 71% agreed it would allow the police to respond more quickly (see Figure 11).  However, 61% of respondents also agreed that it does not demonstrate to youth the seriousness of breaking the law.

Figure 11:  Agreement with Statements about Informal Alternatives to the Youth Justice System

Figure 11, chart representing agreement with statements about informal alternatives to the youth justice system.[Long description of figure 11]

Currently, under the YCJA, with the exception of those youth convicted of murder or those youth who are sentenced as adults, the longest sentence available to a youth court judge is three years in custody.  More than half of respondents (58%) believed that the maximum sentence should be longer than three years in prison, while 37% felt it should remain at three years (see Figure 12).  When asked about the length of youth sentences within the justice system, the majority of respondents (86%) believed that youth sentences were generally shorter than adult sentences for similar crimes. 

Figure 12: Perceptions of Youth Sentences within the Youth Justice System

Figure 12, chart representing the perceptions of youth sentences within the youth justice system.[Long description of Figure 12]

3.5 Predictors of Public Confidence in the Youth Justice System

Given that particular factors can significantly influence an individual’s response (e.g., age, gender, region) in a public opinion survey such as the National Justice Survey, multivariate analysis was performed in order to better understand the variation in responses and control for multiple factors.  In order to empirically identify the predictors of public confidence in the youth justice system, a multiple regression analysis was performed using a backward elimination method by removing the least significant variables one at a time until all remaining variables were significant at the standard level (i.e., p < .05). 

The dependent variable used in the analysis was the following question:

Using a 10-point scale with 1 being “very low confidence” and 10 being “very high confidence”, how much confidence do you have in…the youth criminal justice system?

The following variables were entered into the regression analysis as independent variables:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Household income
  • Current employment status
  • Visible minority status
  • Aboriginal status
  • Children living in the household
  • Marital status
  • Province
  • Urban versus rural location
  • Education
  • Involvement with the youth criminal justice system
  • Familiarity with the Youth Criminal Justice Act
  • Perception of the three year maximum sentences
  • Perceived changes in youth crime rates
  • Perceptions of the factors contributing to youth crime
  • Perceptions of the effectiveness of responses to youth crime
  • Major source of information on the youth justice system

The R2 for the model is 0.299, indicating approximately 30% of the variance in the model is accounted for by the variables that were included (see Table 4). In other words, the significant variables can account for approximately 30% of variability in the public’s confidence in the youth criminal justice system.

What is associated with higher confidence in the youth criminal justice system?

  • Living in the province of Quebec
  • Believing that traditional responses to youth crime found in the YCJA, such as police warnings, probation, treatment (e.g., psychological counselling) and youth custody, are effective responses to youth crime
  • Familiarity with the Youth Criminal Justice Act
  • Believing that using informal alternatives to the justice system (e.g., diversion) allow the courts to focus limited resources on more serious crimes
  • Having a university education
  • Believing that youth who are young and immature or who have a drug addiction, should receive shorter sentences
  • Believing that non-justice related institutions such as school system and religious institutions should be highly responsible for preventing youth crime
  • Believing that poverty, the family environment, and mental health issues play a strong role in contributing to youth crime
  • Consulting more academic sources regarding the youth criminal justice system, such as government reports, books, university courses and professionals within the justice system

What is associated with lower confidence in the youth criminal justice system?

  • Being older
  • Believing that a lack of consequences from the justice system plays a strong role in contributing to youth crime
  • Believing that the three year maximum sentence within the YCJA should be increased
  • Actual experience within the youth criminal justice system (e.g., victim, accused, parent of an accused)
  • A perception that youth crime (general crime, violent crime and involvement in gangs) has increased over the last five years
  • Being a female
  • Residing in western Canada (e.g., British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba)
  • A belief that the courts and the law in Canada (i.e., the Youth Criminal Justice Act) should be responsible for reducing youth crime
  • A belief that adult prison is an effective response for youth who have committed crimes
Table 4: Summary of Multiple Regression Analysis for Predicting Public Confidence in the Youth Criminal Justice System
Variable Parameter Estimates Standard Error F Value P Value
Intercept 2.44 0.28 73.95 <.0001
Quebec 0.83 0.07 127.43 <.0001
Age of respondent -0.02 0.00 102.36 <.0001
A lack of consequences from the justice system contributes to youth crime -0.14 0.01 102.21 <.0001
The three-year maximum sentence within the YCJA is too short -0.60 0.06 96.54 <.0001
Stern warnings by the police are effective 0.11 0.01 93.5 <.0001
Familiarity with the Youth Criminal Justice Act 0.10 0.01 84.77 <.0001
Previous involvement in the youth criminal justice system -0.36 0.07 23.26 <.0001
Alternative measures allow the courts to focus on serious crimes 0.18 0.04 23.19 <.0001
Youth prisons are effective 0.06 0.01 21.35 <.0001
University education 0.26 0.06 19.83 <.0001
Youth who have drug addictions should have shorter sentences 0.23 0.06 16.44 ‹.0001
Youth violent crime has increased -0.25 0.06 16.34 <.0001
Religious institutions should be responsible for preventing youth crime 0.05 0.01 14.74 0.0001
Psychological/psychiatric counselling for youth is effective 0.05 0.02 13.07 0.0003
Gender of respondent (females) -0.19 0.06 11.42 0.0007
British Columbia -0.27 0.09 9.83 0.0017
The courts should be responsible for preventing youth crime -0.05 0.02 9.12 0.0025
Youth gang involvement has increased -0.19 0.06 8.75 0.0031
The school system should be responsible for preventing youth crime 0.05 0.02 8.42 0.0037
Youth crime in general has increased -0.18 0.06 8.35 0.0039
Adult prisons are effective -0.03 0.01 7.86 0.0051
The family contributes to youth crime 0.05 0.02 7.74 0.0054
Community supervision with conditions is effective 0.04 0.01 6.75 0.0094
Alberta -0.27 0.11 6.51 0.0107
Mental health issues contribute to youth crime 0.03 0.01 5.95 0.0148
Youth who are young and immature should have shorter sentences 0.14 0.06 5.54 0.0187
The law should be responsible for preventing youth crime -0.04 0.02 5.24 0.0221
Manitoba -0.28 0.13 5.01 0.0252
The police should be responsible for preventing youth crime 0.04 0.02 4.12 0.0425
Academic sources of information on the youth justice system 0.24 0.11 4.80 0.0285
Poverty contributes to youth crime 0.03 0.01 3.85 0.0497

1. N=4,091; R2=.299 (p.0001).

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