The Young Offenders ActA Continuing Debate There is no question in society as to whether or not young people are committing crime. In fact, since '1986 to 1998 violent crime committed by youth jumped approximately 120%.' The Young Offenders Act is a heated debate in today's society, and one of the most controversial Acts in Canadian history since it was introduced in 1984. Some people think a complete overhaul is needed, others think minor changes would suffice, still others feel it is best left alone. Youth crime is a tough issue, with many differing opinions. Punishment and rehabilitation, one, the other, or both, all topics of debate within society. If you were to discuss the issues with the parents of a victim, it would be understandable that their opinions would differ greatly than those of the parents of the offender.
Many people have formed an opinion without an in depth look at the act. Others simply do not care. The question that needs to be answered is, does the Young Offenders Act in Canada properly address the victims' rights, the rights and needs of the young offender, and does it protect public safety? That question is hard to answer, as some people think that the Act is a more decent and humane way to approach young persons in trouble with the law. On the other hand others feel it offers too much protection to those whom least deserve it -- the young offenders, and very little to those who deserve it -- the victims. I think the Young Offenders Act should concentrate on making young offenders aware that they will be held responsible and accountable for their behaviour. To begin, it must be understood that the Young Offenders Act is a replacement piece of legislature for the outdated Juvenile Delinquents Act.
The Juvenile Delinquents act was enacted in 1908, and was replaced by the Young offenders Act on April 2, 1984. The Juvenile Delinquents Act was a part of legislature that focused mainly on parental and social welfare of the child. It dealt with children as young as seven years of age regarding not only criminal behaviour but also sexual immortality. The Juvenile Delinquents Act allowed for many different courses of action for any child that was found to have delinquent behaviour.
Placements in an industrial school for an indefinite period of time, committed to the children's aid society, or placed in a foster home were all available options under the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The options were made available by the Act 'on the assumption that the offending child was in a condition of delinquency and therefore requiring help and guidance and proper supervision.' The Juvenile Delinquents Act was used in order to 'save' the child. More often than not the delinquent children were not treated fairly and their interests were not looked after. They were not guaranteed counsel, they did not have definite sentences set out in the act, nor were they allowed to appeal a decision made by the court. The Juvenile Delinquents Act essentially denied the offender the basic fundamentals of due process.
Although it was not a unanimous vote, the public did have a high degree of understanding on the fact the Juvenile Delinquents Act was in definite need of major change. Major change was enacted on April 2, 1984, more commonly known as The Young Offenders Act. The Young Offenders Act is another piece of legislation that is under a high degree of scrutiny by the public. In most cases it is generally accepted, until an act of violence committed by a young person is shown in the media. Take for instance, the infamous case in England. A toddler by the name of James Bulger was brutally murdered, by two young boys aged ten and eleven.
Those children received a ten year sentence, and received rehabilitation while in custody. Had the murder of James Bulger been committed in Canada, his killers would have never been charged. Under Canadian law, no child under the age of 12 can be charged with any criminal act, no matter how violent. This case created a lot of heated discussion about the Young Offenders Act.
The conclusion was that the Young Offenders Act had to be more strict, major changes were in need, and should be considered a priority. Statistics Canada (see appendix A) has shown that violent youth crime has had a slight increase in the number of offenders from 1996 through until 2000. Although it did begin to decrease in 1997, 1998, and 1999, an increase was seen in 2000. Violations of federal statutes also saw an increase by youth offenders over the same time period. A decrease was seen in property crime, and other criminal code violations from 1996 through to 2000, and there has been an overall decrease in youths charged with criminal offences.
However, although there is an overall decrease in youth crime, violent crime, the most serious of crimes has increased, and has not seen a significant decrease in the last few years. This is important because there is obviously little or no deterrent being offered by the Young Offenders Act that prevents the young offenders from committing crime. They are obviously not scared by the sentences given to other violent offenders. I think that tougher sentences need to be handed down, but this is obviously an area that needs to be explored. The Young Offenders Act provides the option of transferring some young offenders who have committed violent offences to adult court. Sixteen and seventeen year olds accused of the most serious violent crimes will be tried in adult court unless they can show a judge that both public protection and rehabilitation can be achieved through youth court.
Youths in adult court who are found guilty of murder will also serve longer sentences before becoming eligible for parole. Although all of this sounds good, it is actually very rare that the cases are transferred to adult court. If the case is transferred, and the young offender is convicted the young person will be detained in an adult facility, separate from the adult offenders. I think that more transfers to adult courts should be made in order to deter the young offenders from committing crimes. The young people of our society have no fear of the consequences that our society offers.
It is a common belief among young people that the Young Offenders Act offers just a slap on the wrist for their crimes. If more transfers were made, and more young offenders were being treated as adults, and serving time in adult facilities with other adult criminals, it may instill some fear, and make the young person think twice before acting out. Another change that is needed, is that the mental health of the young offender needs to be addressed. Currently this issue is not laid out in the Young Offenders Act. Under the current legislation before the mental health act can be enacted, extremely dangerous behaviour must be displayed by the young person. I disagree with this approach.
There are many other forms of mental illness not being addressed. Many youths suffer from neurotic disorders, severe emotional depression, eating disorders as well as psychopathy. In many of the above cases extremely dangerous behaviour may or may not be prevalent. In fact in studies, it has been shown that both violent and non-violent offenders 'were found to manifest equally severe psychopathology, with nearly identical levels of psychotic and organic symptoms's o what does this say for the current factor that is necessary for the application of the Mental Health Act. All of the aforementioned diseases of the mind, could fall under the mental health act in an adult case, yet are ignored in the youth courts. The mental health of the young offender should be explored, before, during and after trial, and there should be a definite treatment and intervention plan for those who are diagnosed with any of the above.
Sentencing (referred to as dispositions) under the Young Offenders Act is also an issue that is in need of discussion. The current sentences under the Young Offenders Act include parole, probation, community service, custody and restitution. Custody is reserved for the more serious offences, or repeat offenders. In most cases no custodial sentence can be more than two years except for when the crime committed would entail a life sentence for an adult. If that is the case the sentence for the youth can be increased to three years in custody. It is also included in the Act that no young person under the age of fourteen, can be imprisoned, unless the crime would provide a five or more year sentence for an adult.
Also included is the restriction that fourteen to eighteen year olds can only be committed to secure custody if the crime committed would provide a five or more year sentence for an adult, the crime was a prison breach or escape, and / or the young person was a previous offender. If the offender did not meet the above criteria than they could be committed to open custody, more commonly known as group homes, and boot camps. In 1995, Bill C-37 made numerous changes to the length of sentences offered to the young offenders. The Bill increased the maximum sentence for first degree and second degree murder to ten years.
For the first degree murder conviction, six years was the maximum time that is permitted to be spent in custody and second degree murder is four years. The rest of the sentence would be served in the community under supervision. Again I disagree with the Young Offenders Act. I think it is appropriate for young offenders to serve the same penalties offered to adults when it comes to violent crime. Life imprisonment should be an option to youth court judges when sentencing violent young offenders.
The young people are committing acts, that they know are both lawfully and morally wrong, yet they are being treated as though they did not know any better. The young people that are committing these crimes are not acting like children, and therefore they should not be treated as children. Violent offenders should be given the most severe punishment, in order to deter others from committing the same crimes. The Liberal government agrees that changes to the Young Offenders Act are in need. They also thought that change to the Act would benefit Canada as a whole. It has promised an overhaul to the Young Offenders Act for quite some time, and feel that the issue is being stalled by other parties.
'Justice Minister Anne McLellan tabled legislation Monday introducing many changes to the system, including more community-based sentences and allowing provinces to lower the age at which youth can be handed adult sentences to 14 years from 16.' The Liberals are requesting, on the basis that it is what is wanted by majority of Ontarians, that longer sentences, automatic jail time for youth convicted of weapons offences, and guaranteed adult sentencing for young offenders who commit serious and violent crime be implemented. The Bloc Quebecois opposes the changes. They feel the changes suggested are too harsh. Another opponent to the changes is Alliance justice critic, Vic Toews.
Toews feels that the changes suggested are 'too complicated, and will be too expensive to implement.' Too expensive? Is there a price too high to protect public safety? I think that the Liberal government's suggestions are on the right track. Although I do not think that laws alone prevent violence among young people, and I think that early intervention is key, the current Young Offenders Act does nothing to deter young persons from committing crime. The penalties do not scare the young people, in fact many young people are quite familiar with the penalties that may be given, and quite openly admit that it does not alarm them. When I began this essay, I thought I was well informed. I thought I knew the Young Offenders Act. What I found out was that there were numerous things that are contrary to public perception.
The Young Offenders Act does not create a separate justice system for youth. In Ontario, the same judges preside over both adult and youth court. Young persons in Canada are charged with exactly the same criminal offences as adults. They are charged with the offences that are outlined in the Criminal Code. The Young Offenders Act does not outline a separate list of offences. I also discovered that the Young Offenders Act does not create a significantly different sentencing system for youth.
Both adults and young persons receive sentences of imprisonment, fines, probation, community service, and restitution payable to victims. It is the same judges who impose sentences on adults and young persons. For some offences, a young person may receive stiffer sentences than adults, while others the young person may receive a lesser sentence, but the actual options are very similar. It is also worth mentioning that under the Young Offenders Act it is compulsory that a convicted young offender serve his entire sentence before release. This is unlike adult prisoners who are allowed early release and parole for good behaviour, often only serving only one-third of their original sentence. A young offender sentenced to ten years will serve ten years with no option of parole.
Also contrary to public belief, youth court and police records are not erased when the young person turns eighteen. The records are frequently used by police for many years after the individuals become adults. Youth court records may result in refusal of bail and tougher sentences for repeat offenders. After much thought, I think that the Young Offenders Act, is definitely in need of a facelift.
Although, it is not a complete failure to the Canadian society changes such as tougher sentences, more transfers and revisions concerning the mental health of the young offender need to be implemented. It would deter crime, while still protecting the rights of both the victim and the offender. If such changes were made, the efficiency of the Act would be greatly increased and would benefit Canadian society as a whole. Juvenile crime, as all crime is a serious issue in society. Violent and brutal crime among young offenders is increasingly proven in reports, particularly in urban areas.
Some offenders are psychotic and their offences may range from suicide to spree killings. Others are anti-social and commit only minor acts of defiance, just for the thrill. The increasingly easy access to weapons; increased drug use and addiction; and unemployment; are the more obvious circumstances leading to crime. Modern stress which is becoming more prevalent in young peoples lives, the common breakdown of family life, deviant role models and celebrities, threats of nuclear war, acts of terrorism and the distorted values shown in the media also produce unstable feelings and ideas, all of which contribute to violence among youth. Canadians are traditionally very understanding and forgiving people, but are extremely frustrated by the lack of accountability in the existing justice system for extremely violent and detestable crimes.
Canadians want action on youth crime, especially violent crime. They want an effective justice system that can step in to prevent further criminal activity when young people break the law. They also want to make sure that victims are treated with fairness and respect. Laws, by themselves, cannot solve the problem of youth crime. Many Canadians believe that more must done to help young people before they become involved in crime, and find better ways of keeping young people from returning to crime.
I think that along with numerous changes to the Young Offenders Act, early intervention is the key to crime prevention and a safe and peaceful society. Bibliography Aged, Nah lah. 'Liberals want young offender law to pass quickly.' The Canadian Press, Monday, Feb. 5, 2001. Leschied, Alan et al. The YOU, A revolution in Canadian Juvenile Justice, Toronto: U of T Press, 1991.
Jonathan Wam back Website (web) Platt, Priscilla. Police Guide to the Young Offenders Act. Markham: Butterworths Canada Ltd. , 1991.