The Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel
Prepared by Charles R. Stuart and Jennifer Eakins
Northern Research Institute, Yukon College
Presented at the
6th International Conference on Restorative Justice: Best Practices in Restorative Justice
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
June 1-4, 2003
The Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel, Yukon, Canada is a post-charge inter-agency
screening program for young offenders. The first of its kind in Canada, the Youth Justice
Panel was implemented in March 2001. The Youth Justice Panel goals are to: increase
referrals to extrajudicial measures; reduce court-processing time; reduce length of stay in
remand; reduce custody committals; build partnerships; and enhance family and
community capacity to repair harm (Yukon Health and Social Services, 2001, p.3). These
goals embody restorative principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003), including:
victim, family and community participation; diversion and reduced custody; reparation of
harm; offender accountability and rehabilitation.
In July 2002, Department of Justice Canada contracted with Yukon College, Northern
Research Institute to conduct an evaluation of the Youth Justice Panel. The principle
objectives of this evaluation were to assess the effectiveness of the Youth Justice Panel in
reaching its goals and in reflecting restorative principles of the Youth Criminal Justice
Act (2003). Other objectives were to: examine Panel implementation and determine
whether the model can be replicated in other jurisdictions; ascertain stakeholder, victim
and offender satisfaction; provide program statistics; and obtain user and research-based
recommendations (Stuart & Eakins, 2003, p.1). This paper presents key research findings,
focusing on the capacity of the Youth Justice Panel to reach its goals and to reflect the
restorative principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003).
The evaluation formally commenced in August 2002 and concluded in April 2003.
Research methods included statistical analysis, participant observation, case studies,
literature review and interviews with stakeholders, victims and offenders.
Semi-structured, in-person interviews were conducted with 33 stakeholders from the
Yukon justice system, including Youth Justice Panel and Steering Committee
representatives, and First Nation and community organizations. The purpose of these
interviews was to determine stakeholder satisfaction and to solicit information regarding
implementation, process, structure and effectiveness of the Youth Justice Panel and
associated diversion programs.
Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with eleven diverted offenders and seven
victims. The purpose of these interviews was to determine victim and offender
satisfaction with diversion programs of the Youth Justice Panel. The sample size is small
and biased in favour of those victims and offenders agreeing to participate.
Descriptive statistical data were compiled from Government of Yukon databases. A
statistical snapshot was presented, covering a one-year period from May 1, 2001 to April
30, 2002. Data were compiled and analyzed on Youth Justice Panel cases and charges,
offender demographics, offences, court decisions, diversion referrals, diversion success
and court processing time.
Ten diversion case files were reviewed to provide insight into case management and to
provide narratives of offender cases referred to diversion. Participant observation of the
Youth Justice Panel and Yukon Youth Court provided an understanding of Panel process,
structure, effectiveness, and role in the Yukon youth justice system.
Research revealed that the Youth Justice Panel achieved its goal to increase referrals to
extrajudicial measures. From May 1st, 2001 to April 30th, 2002, 52% of cases reviewed
by the Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel resulted in a diversion referral, while 21% were
stayed, dismissed or withdrawn and 26% were convicted. Figure 1 reveals a sharp
increase in the percentage of diverted cases in Yukon with Panel inception. Between
1997/1998 and 2000/2001, the percentage of diverted cases remained relatively stable.
However, with inception of the Panel the percentage of diverted cases nearly doubled,
from 27% in 2000/2001 to 52% in 2001/2002. Qualitatively, most stakeholders agreed
that the Panel was effective at reaching its goal to increase referrals to extrajudicial
Figure 1. Diversion referrals Diverted cases
Yukon Territory, 1997/1998-2001/2002 Diverted youth
Total youth charged
74 70 81 75
65 65 59 56 54 52% 48%
100 52 27% 26%
25% 26% 23% 28% 27%
1997/98 1998/99 1999/00 2000/01 2001/02
The overall success of diversion programs associated with the Youth Justice Panel was
84%. This is important, considering that 52% of all cases reviewed by the Panel were
referred to diversion, and that successful completion of diversion resulted in dispositions
of charge dismissed, charge withdrawn or stay of proceedings. As a result, 43% of all
cases reviewed by the Panel resulted in no criminal record for the young offender.
This goal, to increase referrals to extrajudicial measures, reflects a commitment by
Yukon justice system partners to one of the more restorative guiding principles of the
Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003). In Yukon, referrals to extrajudicial measures require
young offenders to repair harm through apology, and may involve restitution or
participation in victim offender reconciliation meetings. However, the extent to which
restorative justice principles are met varies from contract to contract and many youth
never meet their victims face to face – a necessary component of restorative justice (Zehr,
1990). In order for the Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel to more fully reflect the principles
of restorative justice, there needs to be some assurance that diversion referrals will result
in the encouragement of face to face victim offender reconciliation meetings. Following
this recommendation, Yukon Health and Social Services recently implemented a
conferencing program to complement the Youth Justice Panel and associated diversion
Quantitative and qualitative data revealed that the Panel was also effective at reaching its
goal to reduce court-processing time. Statistical analysis found that diverted cases, on
average, were faster than non-diverted cases by a factor of three times fewer days (Figure
2) and that diverted cases required 50% fewer court appearances, on average, than non-
diverted cases (Figure 3). Stakeholders felt that complex cases and multiple charges were
attended to more immediately, and legal representation was obtained faster.
Figure 2. Court processing time
Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel, 2001-2002
100 90 days
Mean number days
Diverted cases 3x faster
60 than non-diverted cases
40 32 days
Diverted cases Non-diverted cases
Figure 3. Court appearances
Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel, 2001-2002
7 6 court
Mean court appearances
Diverted cases 2x faster
5 than non-diverted cases
4 3 court
Diverted cases Non-diverted cases
The Youth Justice Panel was less successful in reaching its goal to reduce length of stay
in remand. Stakeholders explained that the Panel has had no effect on remand committals
or length of stay in remand since it is not engaged in the bail process. Research also
revealed that the downward trend in remand counts occurred before Panel
Since Panel inception, open and secure custody admissions have declined (11%),
suggesting that the Panel has had some success in reaching its goal to reduce committals
to custody by diverting offenders from the courts (Figure 4). However, the Panel cannot
take exclusive credit for the steady downward trend in custody admissions, which
commenced four years prior to Panel inception, suggesting that other factors are also
affecting custody levels. Research revealed that declining custody levels are more likely
the result of downward trends in youth crime, demographics and graduation of a chronic
offender cohort from the youth justice system. Future research is required to determine
whether the Youth Justice Panel reduces custody committals.
Figure 4. Custody committals
Yukon Territory, 1997/1998-2001/2002
100 91 Secure
64 64 62
40 30 29
1997/1998 1998/1999 1999/2000 2000/2001 2001/2002
According to the majority of stakeholders, the Panel was effective at reaching its goal to
build better partnerships among all youth justice system key players. Stakeholders
recognized the difficulty in forming inter-agency partnerships and suggested the Panel be
considered a “best practice” in building such partnerships and improving collaborative
decision-making. The following youth justice agencies and organizations are partners on
the Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel: RCMP, Crown Counsel, Legal Aid, Youth Probation
Services, Federal and Territorial Victim Services, Tan Sakwathan First Nation Youth
Diversion Program, Kwanlin Dun Justice Program, Whitehorse Diversion Committee,
Council of Yukon First Nations and Bringing Youth Towards Equality.
However, limited community and First Nation involvement was a concern among
stakeholders. Although the Panel’s intent is to involve community in the decision-making
process, it is largely a professional body, representing government agencies. The
establishment of a Youth Justice Board was recommended to enhance community
participation and input to the Youth Justice Panel as well as the Territorial Youth Court.
Rather than simply adding community representatives to the existing Youth Justice Panel,
this board would engage community in the youth justice system as a whole. The Youth
Justice Board would replace the Panel Steering Committee, and provide community
oversight and input to the Youth Justice Panel, Territorial Youth Court and other youth
justice system components. The Youth Justice Board would move Yukon closer to a fully
integrated community-based youth justice system.
Fundamental to the Youth Justice Board is decentralization of decision-making power
away from the judiciary and government agencies. Morris & Maxwell (2001) emphasize
that a vital element of restorative justice is limiting state monopoly and transferring
power to those most affected by the offence – communities (p.272). The necessary
change in philosophy, from state-centered to community-based justice, cannot be
achieved through implementation of a single restorative program, such as the Youth
Justice Panel. Instead, a system-wide vision of community-based justice is required
(Bazemore & Pranis, 1997).
The Youth Justice Panel has made progress in reaching its goal to enhance the capacity of
family and community to repair harm caused by criminal activity. The Panel process
provides a mechanism for building community capacity through representation,
information sharing, collaborative decision-making and increased referrals to
community-based extrajudicial measures. In practice, however, minimal family and
community involvement in the process hindered the Panel’s ability to meet its potential.
Many of the restorative principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003) are optional
and implementation will therefore vary among provinces and territories. In Yukon,
establishment of the Youth Justice Panel reveals a committed step toward restorative
justice. However, the Youth Justice Panel and associated diversion programs cannot be
considered truly restorative until they place more emphasis on bringing together victim,
offender and community to repair harm.
Bazemore, G. & Pranis, K. (1997, December). Hazards along the way. Corrections
Morris, A & Maxwell, G. (2001). Implementing restorative justice: What works? In A.
Morris & G. Maxwell (Eds.), Restorative justice for juveniles: Conferencing,
mediation and circles (pp. 267-281). Oxford: Hart Publishing.
Stuart, C. & Eakins, J. (2003). The Whitehorse Youth Justice Panel: An Evaluation.
Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
Youth Criminal Justice Act, R.S.C. 2003, c. C-7.
Yukon Health and Social Services. (2001). Standards and guidelines for Whitehorse
Youth Justice Panel. (Unpublished document). Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Health
and Social Services, Family and Children's Services Branch.
Zehr, H. (1990). Changing lenses: A new focus for crime and justice. Scottdale, Pa: