State of the Criminal Justice System - 2019 Report

What is the criminal justice system?

The CJS apprehends, prosecutes, defends, and sentences those who are accused or convicted of illegal activity. Processing through the CJS can vary, but police, courts, and correctional services are the central processing and decision-making points for people who come in contact with the CJS (e.g., accused, victims, witnesses, families, services providers).Footnote 4

Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments share responsibility for the CJS. The federal government makes criminal laws that apply across the country and sets the procedure for criminal courts (Constitution Act, 1867, ss. 91(27)). This helps ensure that criminal matters are treated fairly and consistently across the country. The provinces and territories administer justice within their own jurisdictions (ibid, ss. 92(14)); they enforce the law, prosecute most offences, and provide assistance to victims of crime. Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments share responsibility for policing in Canada. The provinces and territories are responsible for administering correctional services for youth, while federal and provincial/territorial governments share responsibilities for adult correctional services. The federal government is responsible for adults (aged 18 and over) sentenced to two or more years of custody. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for adults sentenced to less than two years of custody, those held while awaiting trial or sentencing (remand), and those serving community sentences, such as probation.

An efficient, effective, and fair CJS depends on successfully coordinating federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal jurisdictions in a number of separate but interrelated parts. These include: legislatures (which enact the laws); law enforcement; legal services and courts (e.g., prosecution, defence, legal aid); victim services; correctional services; various stakeholders; service providers; community members and groups; and other social support systems, such as health, education, and social services.

The CJS as referred to in this report and online Dashboard encompasses both the adult and youth criminal justice systems. It should be highlighted that the two systems are separate. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) (2002) is the law that governs Canada’s youth justice system. It applies to youth, 12 to 17 years of age, who are alleged to have committed a criminal offence. The youth system is different from the adult system in many respects: measures of accountability are consistent with young persons’ reduced level of maturity, procedural protections are enhanced, rehabilitation and reintegration are given special emphasis, and the importance of timely intervention is explicitly recognized.

How does the criminal justice system interact with other social systems?

The CJS operates within a broader social context, which includes demographic, social, and economic factors, as well as other social systems (e.g., health, education, housing, social services, child welfare). Many socioeconomic risk factors are associated with involvement in the CJS. Some of these include poverty, child welfare involvement, low levels of education and employment, previous victimization, mental health and addictions issues, and homelessness. How the health, child welfare, education, and social services sectors identify, prioritize, fund, and address other social issues can affect how the CJS operates. For instance, if health system programs are successful in identifying, treating, and/or managing mental health issues and providing appropriate supports, they can help prevent crime, reduce a person’s risk of contact with the CJS, and reduce incarceration rates. Other social systems can not only help with prevention but can also reduce and manage risk after someone is involved in the CJS by helping build skills, addressing health and mental health needs, and promoting rehabilitation. During consultations to develop the Framework, participants noted that in many cases the CJS should be used as a last resort for responding to crime given its limited ability to address these socioeconomic risk factors underlying most criminal behaviour.

The Framework does not account for the effect of other social systems on the CJS’ performance due to a lack of data. The Department has been adding more programs that cross different systems because it sees them as a promising way to improve outcomes for those in the CJS and other social systems and anticipates it will improve how it collects and analyses data in this area over time.

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