Youth Crime Statistics and the Impact of the Young Offenders Act on Youth Crime
Public opinion polls
consistently show a widespread belief that youth
crime is on the rise, that youth crime is
becoming more serious in nature, and that the
federal Young Offenders Act (the YOA)
is contributing to these trends because it is too
lenient on young offenders.
Public opinion polls consistently show a widespread belief that youth crime is on the rise, that youth crime is becoming more serious in nature, and that the federal Young Offenders Act (the YOA) is contributing to these trends because it is too lenient on young offenders.
Some point out that official crime statistics do not support this belief. Others argue that statistics do not give the whole story, and that politicians should heed the concerns expressed by the police and the public about the apparent increase in the rate and seriousness of youth crime.
This paper sets out the most recent youth crime statistics from Statistics Canada and summarizes the findings of recent reports and studies on youth crime and how the YOA has influenced youth crime trends.
2. YOUTH CRIME STATISTICS, 1998-99
In its latest report on youth crime, Youth Court Statistics, 1998/991, Statistics Canada reports that the number of cases heard in youth courts across the country is down for the seventh year in a row. Highlights of the report are noted below.
Seven Year Comparisons 1998/99
Youth Court Decisions
3. YOUTH CRIME STATISTICS,19995
In July 2000, Statistics Canada released statistics for 1999 for all categories of crime (youth and adult).6 Some of the figures for youth crime are noted below.
4. REPORTS AND STUDIES ON YOUTH CRIME
Ontario Crime Control Commission
In May 1998, the Ontario Crime Control Commission released Report on Youth Crime.7 The Commission argued that "while important, official crime statistics are not an ideal way to gauge the actual incidence of crime." The report offered the following explanations for the strong public perception that crime is increasing.
Citing the testimony of RCMP officers who blame the "bureaucratic handcuffs" of the YOA for the failure of the justice system to deal with youth crime, the Commission called for the following amendments to the YOA:
House of Commons Standing Committe on Justice and Legal Affairs
The thirteenth report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, released in 1997, was a comprehensive review of the Young Offenders Act.8 Chapter 3 of the report, dealing with the public's perception of youth crime, suggests that members of the public generally underestimate the extent to which youth court judges send convicted young offenders to jail. It notes, for example, that the rate at which the youth justice system in Canada sentences youth to custody is four times higher than for adults. Moreover, the rate of youth incarceration in Canada is twice that of the United States and ten to fifteen times higher than in many European countries, Australia and New Zealand.
Witnesses appearing before the committee were critical of the tendency to impose custodial sentences because this exposes youth involved in minor crimes to more serious offenders. There was also criticism of the failure to provide rehabilitative programming. One judge made the following observation:
The committee also noted that, while there is a widely held view by Canadians that harsher penalties will deter youth crime, youth court statistics indicate that despite a high incarceration rate, recidivism in Canada remains a problem. For example, in 1993-94, 40% of convicted young offenders were repeat offenders and 25% were persistent offenders (three or more prior convictions). Based on these figures, the committee concluded that harsh penalties do not have a significant impact on recidivism.
Evidence presented to the committee suggested that the lack of understanding about how the YOA works has undermined confidence in the justice system. This lack of knowledge can be blamed to a large extent on the tendency of the media to focus on sensational crimes, without providing context and critical analysis. In this way, it was suggested, the media has fuelled and reinforced the public's fear of youth violence and the misconception that most youth crime involves acts of violence. This in turn has led to the demands for harsher criminal justice sanctions and explains why, despite the fact that the YOA has been amended three times (1986, 1992 and 1995) to increase penalties for violent crimes and to facilitate the transfer of youth to the adult system, the calls for tougher legislative measures have not abated.
It was also suggested to the committee that those who feel the YOA has been a complete failure and must be made tougher have created the following dilemma: "What do you do for your next act when the draconian measures fail? We're starting to amend this act every two years."10
Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Youth Justice
The Task Force was established in 1995 by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice to review the YOA upon the tenth anniversary of its enactment. Its 1996 report11 includes a discussion of some of the problems that have been identified with the admissibility of statement evidence (as noted in the next section, a major concern of police officers). The report notes that the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which preceded the YOA, was silent about the admissibility of statements given by young people to persons in authority. However, in recognition of the "special needs" of young persons, the courts established common law rules that gave special consideration to statements given by young persons who were charged, arrested or detained, or suspected of offences. Section 56 of the YOA codified these common law rules, as well as the protection guaranteed in the Charter, and then added further protection.
The report then cites a number of problems that have been identified with s. 56.
Accordingly, the Task Force made a number of recommendations for clarifying the requirements of s. 56, including:
The report also discusses other YOA issues, such as age jurisdiction, diversion programs and the publication ban.
Police Perceptions about Youth Crime
In 1997, the Solicitor General for Canada sponsored a study of what police officers from across the country consider to be "meaningful consequences" for a variety of crimes committed by young people.12 Two of the issues examined were the perceptions of police officers regarding the nature and extent of youth crime in their communities, and police perceptions of the effectiveness of the YOA.
It was found that youth crime and youth violence were perceived as "serious" to "very serious" by police in larger communities and that there was a perception that these activities had increased in the previous three years. When asked whether the YOA helped or hindered them in responding to youth crime, the majority of officers responded that the act was a hindrance. Some of their concerns are noted below.
John Howard Society
The John Howard Society of Alberta (the JHS) conducted a statistical analysis in response to the perception that youth crime is out of control and that the YOA is too lenient on young offenders.13
The paper reviews data that some have argued shows significant increases in youth crime from 1986/87 to 1992/93. Statistics Canada figures for 1992/93, for example, show a 27% increase in the number of charges laid against youth and a 32% increase in the number of cases heard in youth court. The JHS offers the following explanations for these numbers.
The JHS challenges the view that youth crime is increasing in seriousness.
The JHS also responds to the perception that the YOA is too soft on young offenders.
Apparent Increase in Youth Crime after the Introduction of the YOA
In a 1994 study,14 Professor Peter Carrington and Sharon Moyer found that the proportion of apprehended youth that were charged increased from 53% during the four years immediately preceding the enactment of the YOA to 64% in the first six years after the act came into force. This increase was observed in those provinces where 16- and 17-year-olds were added to the youth justice system by the YOA.15 The authors note that other research suggests that the reason for the increase in police charging is due to the increased procedural formality under the YOA and the need to need to lay charges in order for young offenders to qualify for diversion programs.
Report to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Youth Justice
A 1996 study commissioned by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Youth Justice provides a statistical comparison of the ways in which young offenders are dealt with across the country.16 One of its conclusions is that the emphasis on serious crime in the media and in the minds of many private citizens does not reflect the actual state of youth crime. The statistical evidence clearly indicates that the vast majority of youth crime is not serious in nature. Moreover, self-report studies in other countries have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of children and young persons do things, usually of a less serious nature, that could, technically speaking, result in criminal charges if the circumstances are right. Some degree of criminal behaviour, it is pointed out, is a normal part of growing up, and for many young persons the most effective crime control is maturity.
Statistical evidence presented in the report confirms the conclusions reached by Carrington and Moyer (noted above) about the effect on reported youth crime rates of adding 16- and 17-year-olds to the youth justice system and the introduction of more formal procedures under the YOA.
5. ADDENDUM: THE YOUTH CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT
To address the apparent lack of public confidence in the YOA, federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan introduced the Youth Criminal Justice Act (Bill C-68) in the House of Commons on March 11, 1999. This bill died on the order paper when the House was prorogued in September 1999, but was re-introduced on October 14, 1999 as Bill C-3, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
For a broad range of resources, see the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Issue Gateway No. 9, by Research Officer Andrew McNaught.
1 Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, Youth Court Statistics, 1998/99, Catalogue no. 85-002-X1E Vol. 20 no. 2, May 2000.
2 "Other Criminal Code offences" include failure to appear in court and escaping custody.
3 YOA offences were mainly "failure to comply with a court disposition."
4 Under the 1995 amendments, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with murder, manslaughter, attempted murder or aggravated sexual assault are tried in adult court, unless the accused can show why the case would be more appropriately dealt with in youth court (in which case the lower maximum sentences prescribed under the YOA would apply).
5 Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, Juristat: Canadian crime statistics, 1997, Vol. 18, no. 11, Catalogue no. 85-002-XPE.
7 Ontario Crime Control
Commission, Report on Youth Crime (Toronto: The
Commission, May, 1998).
8 Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, Renewing Youth Justice: Thirteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, April 1997.
9 Ibid., p. 18.
10 Ibid., p. 22.
11 Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Youth Justice, A Review of the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Justice System in Canada, August 1996, Chapter 11.
12 Tullio Caputo and Katherine Kelly, Police Perceptions of Current Responses to Youth Crime (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1997).
13 The John Howard Society of Alberta, Youth Crime in Canada: Public Perception vs. Statistical Information, (Edmonton: The Society, 1997).
14 Peter J. Carrington and Sharon Moyer, "Trends in youth crime and police response, pre- and post-YOA," Canadian Journal of Criminology, 1994, 36(1): 1-28.
15 In eight provinces and territories (including Ontario), the YOA caused the addition of 16- and/or 17-year-olds to the youth justice system; in the remaining jurisdictions, these age groups were already included.
16 Sharon Moyer, A Profile of the Juvenile Justice System in Canada (Report to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Youth Justice), November 1996.
Copyright (c) 2000: Office of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.