The Youth Criminal
Terms—Old & New
• A youth criminal is a person who is 12–17
years old and is charged with an offence under
the current Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
• A young offender was a person aged 12–17
who was charged with an offence under the
previous Young Offenders Act (YOA).
• A juvenile delinquent was a young person from
the age of 7 or older who was charged as a
young offender or youth criminal under the
historic Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA).
Juvenile Delinquents Act
• Until the 1890s, there was no distinction
between how adults and youth were treated by
• In 1892, the Criminal Code was amended to try
children separately from adults.
• In 1908, the federal government passed the
Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA).
• The age limit under the JDA ranged from 7 to 16
or 18 years old (depending on the province).
• Youth who committed crimes were treated as
“delinquents,” not criminals; focus was to
rehabilitate, not punish them.
• Legal rights of juveniles were mostly ignored and
as a result their sentences were often unfair and
Young Offenders Act
• The Young Offenders Act (YOA) officially
replaced the JDA in 1984.
• The minimum age changed from 7 to 12 and the
maximum age was set at 17 in every province
• The YOA recognized the rights of youth as
guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights
• Common criticisms of the YOA included:
– being too soft on young offenders
– not properly addressing serious and violent offences
– lacking a clear philosophy on youth justice
Youth Criminal Justice Act
• The Young Offenders Act was replaced by the
Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) in 2003.
• A number of changes were introduced in the
YCJA, starting with a Declaration of Principle,
which states that the purpose of the youth
criminal justice system is to
– prevent crime by finding out what causes youths to
offend in the first place.
– rehabilitate youths and reintegrate them into society.
– ensure they are given meaningful consequences for
– promote the long-term protection of the public.
Changes in the YCJA
• The YCJA brought in a number of changes:
– The age that a youth criminal could be tried
as an adult for very serious, violent crimes
was lowered from 16 to 14 years.
– Judges could impose adult sentences for
violent crimes committed by youth and
publish the offenders’ names.
– Less emphasis on custody and more
emphasis on alternative sentencing options
for minor and non-violent offences.
– Increased community supervision for youth
criminals who have served time in custody.
Diverting Youth From Crime
• Custody is only used for youth criminals if
they are repeat offenders or if they have
committed a very serious crime, usually
• Alternative sentencing options include:
1. Extrajudicial measures: non-violent, first time youth
offenders avoid trial and participate in diversion or
community programs. Under the YOA, these were
called alternative measures programs.
2. Extrajudicial sanctions: a more serious punishment
for a youth criminal that does not create a criminal
record; also avoids a trial.
• Extrajudicial measures and sanctions include:
– Education programs
– Community service
– Official apologies
– Caution letters 90
– Restitution or compensation
– Social skills improvement
– Essays or presentations
– Charitable donations or personal service
Arrest and Detention
• Similar to adults, young people in Canada have
legal rights as guaranteed by the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms.
• However, youth are provided extra protection
and additional rights (Section 25).
• Young people who90 being arrested must be
informed of their rights in words or language that
they can understand.
• In addition to having a right to counsel upon
being arrested or detained, young people also
have the right to have a parent/guardian
• Similar to adults, police may search a youth if
they have reason to believe the youth has drugs,
alcohol, or a weapon on his or her person.
• A youth will also be searched if he or she is in
the process of being arrested.
• In the case of R. v.90 1998, the Supreme Court
ruled that a school authority, such as a principal,
may search a student if he or she has
“reasonable grounds” to believe the student has
breached school regulations.
• Reasonable grounds include information from
credible students and a teacher’s observations.
Detention & Bail
• Youths have the same rights as adults when it
comes to posting bail.
• Terms for youth bail usually include curfews,
adult supervision, and forbidding contact with
people, like the victim and certain friends.
• Most youth are not90 released without a surety—
someone who posts their bail and agrees to
supervise them until their trial.
• Accused youth who are thought to be dangerous
or likely to skip their trial may be sent to a foster
home: the home of an existing family where a
young person is placed to be cared for and
• If a young person is arrested, his or her parents
or guardians must be notified as soon as
• Parents are encouraged to be present during
each step of the legal process for their child.
• A judge may also order parents to appear at a
hearing or the trial.
• If the youth is found guilty, the parents have an
opportunity to provide input before their child is
sentenced by a judge.
• Under the YCJA, an accused youth may be tried
in a youth or family court.
• Trials for youth follow the same rules of
evidence and formality as adult trials.
• Under the YCJA, the names of accused youth
will not be published unless they are convicted
of very serious, or presumptive offences, such
as murder or aggravated assault.
• All youth trials are held in a youth court.
• The maximum sentence for a youth (not tried as
an adult) is 10 years of secure custody for first
Under the YCJA, the principles of sentencing are:
1. To hold offenders accountable for their behaviour.
2. To consider victims’ needs and concerns.
3. To impose appropriate sanctions while emphasizing
rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into society
while protecting society at the same time.
• Before sentencing a youth criminal, the judge
reviews a youth pre-sentence report, which
– interviews with the youth, parents, and victim
– history of the youth’s criminal offences
– character information on the youth
– school records
– medical or psychiatric information
– youth’s attitude toward the crime
• In addition to custody, a judge has many options
on how to sentence a convicted youth that are
similar to adult sentences.
• Common sentences include:
– absolute discharges
– fines (maximum fine for a youth is $1000)
– restitution or compensation
– community service
• Convicted youth criminals may also be ordered
to participate in police or community-based
programs so their interactions with the police
can become more positive.
• Standard conditions for a youth placed on
probation differ from adult probation.
• These conditions often include:
– attending school regularly
– reporting to a probation officer
– following a curfew 90
– remaining at home with parents/guardians
– staying away from shopping malls and stores
– performing personal or community service
– not using alcohol or drugs
• This is the most serious type of sentence that a
judge can give a youth criminal.
• Custody is used as a last resort by judges,
when they believe that alternative sentencing
options will not work.
• A judge will sentence a youth criminal to
custody if the youth
– has committed a violent crime and needs supervision.
– fails to comply with earlier, less serious sentences.
• In Canada, there are two types of youth custody:
open and secure.
• Youth criminals who require structure and
supervision, but who are not considered very
dangerous, may be sentenced to open custody.
• This type of custody usually involves sending a
convicted youth to a group home, which
accommodates several youth criminals for a set
time period; or a foster home, in which the
youth lives with other families.
• Group homes are operated by trained staff.
• Foster parents receive money from the
provincial government for providing a foster
• This is the most serious type of custody in which
the convicted youth’s freedom is completely
• Secure custody facilities generally have barred
windows and locked doors. Some are located in
separate wings of adult jails.
• This sentence is given to convicted youth who
have been convicted of very serious and violent
crimes, and/or youth who are considered
potentially dangerous and a threat to the public.
Appeals & Reviews
• The Criminal Code provides youths and adults
with the same rights to appeal their sentences.
• Under the YCJA, a review may be requested by
the youth, his or her parents, or provincial
• If a youth criminal is sentenced to secure
custody, his or her sentence is automatically
reviewed annually (once a year). A judge may
decide to decrease a sentence upon this review,
but cannot increase it.