The YCJA is representative of Parliament’s commitment to reserving the use of custodial sanctions for only the most serious of young offenders. The legislation “is based on an accountability framework that promotes consequences for crime that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence” (Department of Justice, 1999b). Under the YCJA, youths who have committed lesser offences, such as property crimes, would be diverted from the formal justice process via alternative measures or community based sentences (Department of Justice, 1999b). It is hoped that judges will no longer consider general or specific deterrence and denunciation when sentencing young people for crimes of a less serious nature, and this will effectively lessen the youth courts’ reliance on custody as a disposition. It is also hoped that youth court judges will be less inclined to take child-welfare concerns into account when sentencing a young person to custody. Section 37 (1) of the YCJA outlines the principles of sentencing, including statements that a young person’s sentence must be similar to those given to other youths under similar circumstance, and must not exceed those given to adults. Furthermore, the sentence given to a young person must be warranted by the offence, and must take into account the degree of responsibility a youth holds. These clear principles should steer judges away from other considerations, such as the home life of the young offender, and leave it to the child welfare system to deal with the youth when he/she is released.

The YCJA strongly promotes the use of police warnings and cautions instead of formal processing of young offenders. Section 4 of the YCJA states that extrajudicial measures are “often the most appropriate and effective way to address youth crime,” they are adequate measures for first-time non- violent offenders and may be used to deal with youths with a prior conviction or those who have been subject to extrajudicial measures in the past, if appropriate. Extrajudicial sanctions (similar to alternative measures under the YOA) may be used if a warning, on one hand, and formal processing, on the other, are both inappropriate, and the sanction is part of an authorized program. By widening the application of warnings and extrajudicial sanctions, it is hoped that the use of custody for young offenders will decrease.


The use of custody for young offenders has risen significantly since the introduction of the YOA in 1984. Under the JDA, custody was reserved for young people who could not be helped through any other means. Young offenders were to be thought of as people in need of guidance and support, not as criminals. The YOA, on the other hand, effectively incorporated the designation of ?criminal’ into the definition of young offender. The treatment of youths by the justice system increasingly became like that afforded adults in terms of both legal rights and case outcomes. However, the use of custodial dispositions by the youth court at present is, in fact, greater than that of the adult court. Youths are incarcerated at a much higher rate, in part, because they are more likely to be convicted of at least one charge per case and because they are also more likely to be sent to custody once found guilty.

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