A unique aspect of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is the inclusion of principles and objectives, not only for the legislation as an entirety, but for various stages of the youth justice process. Section 4 of the YCJA outlines the principles that apply to the use of extrajudicial measures, including police warnings and cautions. Section 4 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 subject to extrajudicial measures in the past, if appropriate. Section 5 outlines the objectives of extrajudicial measures - to provide a quick and effective response to youth crime, to promote the reparation of harm done to victims, to encourage the families of young offenders, and to allow victims to participate in the justice process. The YCJA strongly promotes the use of police warnings and cautions instead of formal processing of young offenders. 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. Further, the young person must freely consent to participate in the program and must take responsibility for their offence.

Youth sentences, in many respects, remain similar to those made available under the YOA. The maximum sentences, for instance, are unchanged in the new legislation. However, in the new Act the purpose of sentencing under the YCJA, stated in section 37, is clearly to hold young people accountable for their criminal acts. Sentencing, according to the YOA, should strike a balance between the interests of both society and the young offender. The YCJA provides that sentences should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and should promote the rehabilitation and subsequent reintegration of young offenders into the community after their sentences are complete. Sentences handed down by the youth justice court should not be more severe than those given to adults found guilty of the same offence, and should be similar to those given to other youths for the same offence. It is likely that under the new Act, custodial sentences will be reserved for violent offenders or those with prior convictions. For the majority of young people who face criminal processing, community sentences, extrajudicial sanctions, and warnings by the police will be employed to deal with offending behaviour.

One new sentencing provision introduced in the YCJA gives judges a special sentencing option for violent, repeat young offenders. Section 41 provides that a youth court judge, when deciding on a disposition for a youth, may “make an intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision order” that is for a specified period of time, not to exceed two years from the commencement of the youth’s committal unless the offence for which the sentencing applies warrants a period of custody longer than two years (murder and sexual assault, for example). This provision allows judges to direct treatment and other programming for violent young offenders who would, under the YOA, receive little if any treatment. Youth court judges may be less willing to impose adult sentences for violent young offenders when the intensive sentencing provision comes into force.

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