Custodial Sentence Length Comparisons for Adults and Youths

A comparison of custodial sentence lengths handed down by youth and adult courts is problematic. First, as mentioned above, the most serious offences committed by adults are frequently heard by Superior Courts, which are not surveyed by the ACCS. Even though these cases are few in number, the fact that they are not counted in the survey, coupled with the differences in maximum sentences available to the youth and adult courts (10 years for first degree murder in the youth system and life imprisonment in the adult system), we must be aware that sentence length data are limited. Of greater concern is the absence of remission, or early release, in the youth system. This is particularly significant in comparisons of custodial sentences for which adults are subject to penalties of 2 years or less. For example, both an adult and a youth found guilty of theft under $5, 000 could receive up to 2 years in prison. Rarely does this type of crime warrant such a lengthy term of incarceration, but if a youth and an adult were each given the maximum disposition of 2 years, the adult could be paroled after one third of the sentence and would be eligible for day parole after one sixth. In contrast, the youth could receive a judicial review of his sentence after 1 year. At that time, the sentence could be reduced, otherwise the full sentence must be served as ordered. For many minor offences, youths serve as much or more time than adults in custody (CCJS, 1998b).

Youth Court Survey data show that in the fiscal year, 1997/98, almost one third (31%) of youth cases included a custodial sentence of less than one month for the most serious offence (CCJS, 1999c). According to the Adult Criminal Court Survey data for the same fiscal year, 50% of prison sentences given to adults were for less than one month for the most serious charge in each case (CCJS, 1998a). In the two previous fiscal years, the percentages were similar. Overall, adults are more likely to be given short prison sentences of less than one month. Youths, on the other hand, are twice as likely to be given intermediate custodial sentences of a duration between one and six months.

Table 3. Percentage of cases in adult and youth court resulting in custodial sentences, by length of sentence


  YOUTH COURT ADULT COURT
 

Less than 1 month

1 to 6 months

more than 6 months

Less than 1 month

1 to 6 months

more than 6 months

1997/98
31 62 7
50 38 11
1996/97
29 63 8
50 38 12
1995/96
28 64 8
49 37 12

Note: due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.

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