The Youth Criminal Justice Act Explained for Students in Police Foundations Training

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The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) was a pivotal piece of legislation in Canada that forever changed the way that youth interacted with the criminal justice system. Enacted in 2003, the YCJA replaced the Young Offenders Act as the law governing the youth justice system in Canada. For those enrolled in law enforcement foundations training, understanding the YCJA is an essential part of understanding the Canadian legal system, as well as the role that the law can play in addressing ethical considerations such as rehabilitation and fairness. 

Here’s what those in law enforcement foundations training will want to know about the Act.

Those in Police Foundations Training Should Know the Purpose of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

The YCJA applies to young people from ages 12-18 who have allegedly committed an offence. Historically, young people who committed a crime lacked significant protections within the legal system, and laws regarding the sentencing of youths varied from province to province. In 1982, the Young Offenders Act created a distinct criminal justice system for youth, meaning that when youth commit a crime, they don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the general Canadian criminal justice system, but rather under a separate youth justice court. This court has the exclusive authority to handle offences perpetrated by youth. Following the Young Offenders Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act reinforced and updated the precedent set, with a few changes that those with police foundations training will want to be aware of. 

The Youth Criminal Justice Act focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment

The Goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act illustrates that while it’s important that youth be held accountable for the crimes they commit, ethically, it is unfair that they receive the same punishment as adults for the same crime, due to their age. This Act reflects both internationally accepted standards and scientific understandings of responses to youth crime. The YCJA has three main goals. These include:

  • The prevention of crime by addressing the conditions influencing the youth’s behaviour which drove them to commit the crime
  • The rehabilitation of youth who commit crimes and the commitment to their reintegration into society
  • The assurance that a young person faces purposeful consequences for their actions in order to promote public safety.

With these goals, this Act emphasizes the difference between youth and adult crime, and acknowledges the importance of rehabilitation efforts and dealing with the root cause of youth crime rather than resorting to punishment determined by the court. Additionally, the YCJA holds that, when possible, youth should be punished via extrajudicial measures—constructive aims including meetings with a community justice committee and more, with youth court as a last resort.

The YCJA takes into consideration conditions in the youth’s life that may have led them to commit crime

Why the YCJA Is Relevant to Those Enrolled in Police Foundations Courses

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is important for those with police foundations careers to consider. The Act serves as a reminder that often ethical considerations must be taken into account in order to ensure that the law is both fair and beneficial. By emphasizing rehabilitation and reintegration rather than punishment exclusively, the YCJA reveals that there are many factors to consider in a law enforcement profession, and that the law exists both to assist and protect the public.  

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