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Youth Imprisonment Drops by Half

Youth Imprisonment Drops by Half
December 1, 2005.
Globe and Mail

The number of young offenders in the country's prisons has dropped by half since Canada reformed the youth justice system in 2003, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was introduced in 2003 in part to set guidelines for sentencing of young offenders. Along with standardizing punishment across the country, the reforms also aimed to reserve incarceration for only the most serious offen ders.

Prior to 2003, almost half of the cases resulting in jail time were minor offences, including theft of $5,000 or less; possession of stolen property; failure to appear; and failure to comply with a disposition (breach of a condition of probation), according to the Department of Justice.

At that time, more 80 per cent of youths imprisoned were non-violent offenders. In fact, Canada sent a higher rate of young offenders into custody than most Western nations, including the U.S.

Before the new Act, the rate of youth incarceration in Canada surpassed that of adults, the Department of Justice wrote in its report on the legislative changes.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act replaced the Young Offenders Act, a nearly 20 year old piece of legislation, in April 2003. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of youths in custody on any given day was 2,720. In the year following the reforms, that number dropped to 1,340.

“An underlying theme of the YCJA is that there are more meaningful, fair and effective responses for many of the less serious offenders who are often sentenced to custody,” according to the Department of Justice's policy paper.

After the reforms, along with a reduction in the amount of incarcerations, Statscan reports there was also a decline in the percentage of young offenders on remand or probation in all jurisdictions, ranging from a 29 per cent decrease in B.C. to an 8 per cent decrease in Nova Scotia, according to the Statscan report.

Statistics Canada Report: Youth correctional services: Key indicators
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