Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Canada's Amended Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Problem of Serious Persistent Youth Offenders: Deterrence and the Globalization of Juvenile Justice

Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Canada's Amended Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Problem of Serious Persistent Youth Offenders: Deterrence and the Globalization of Juvenile Justice

Article excerpt

In 2012, Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) amended the prevention oriented Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) as part of this government's larger and ongoing tough-on-crime overhaul of the Canadian justice system. As enacted in 2002, the YCJA aimed to divert as many minor youth offenders as possible away from the courts, provide a range of community-based non-custodial interventions for midrange offenders, and reserve custody for violent and repeat offenders. At the same time, it presumed that a youth age 14 or older found guilty of murder, attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault or a third serious violent offence would be subject to an adult sentence, though this presumption was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2008 (R. v. D.B., 2008).1 Consistent with the overall intent to reduce reliance on custody, deterrence was neither an explicit nor implied sentencing aim. Rather, as outlined in previous reviews (e.g., Bala, Carrington, & Roberts, 2009), the goal of extrajudicial diversions and sentencing alike was to provide meaningful consequences that fostered rehabilitation and reintegration 'in order to promote the long-term protection of the public' (pre-amended § 3(1)).

Among other changes, the 2012 amendments foreground public protection and accountability over rehabilitation and prevention (§ 3(1), broaden criteria for holding youth in pre-trial detention (§ 29(2) and sentenced custody (§ 39(1) and add deterrence and denunciation as sentencing objectives a youth court 'may' consider (§ 38(2)(f)). The amendments do not, however, eliminate the presumption that 'extrajudicial measures are often the most appropriate and effective way to address youth crime' (§ 4). Moreover, while the amended Declaration of Principle (§ 3(1) deletes reference to the long-term protection of the public, 'contributing' to this outcome remains the purpose of sentencing :

The purpose of sentencing under section 42 (youth sentences) is to hold a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person and that promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public. (§38(1).

Recognizing the importance of differentiating symbolic from practical aims and impacts (Doob & Webster, 2006), this paper assesses the amended YCJA's introduction of deterrence as an additional sentencing aim through analyses of a subset of interviews with persistent male youth offenders recruited in a youth correctional facility in southern Ontario in 2005-2006 (n = 20). The analysis attends to how the youths' accounts of violence, crime, and rehabilitative intervention efforts fit with government insistence that a stronger deterrence message is needed to 'reverse the damage' (Mann, 2014, p. 413) of a justice system that scholars concur largely missed the global 'punitive turn' (Meyer & O'Malley, 2005) that David Garland (2000) first identified (see also Donohue & Moore, 2009; Lynch, 2012; Moore & HannahMoffat, 2005; O'Malley, 1999, 2002; Webster & Doob 2007, 2014). The paper concludes with a discussion of the relevance of the Canadian case to the globalization of juvenile justice, a development marked by the contradictory embrace of punitivism, on the one hand, and crime-prevention jurisprudence, on the other (see also Andrews & Dowden, 2007; Bateman, 2012; Darke, 2011; Farrall, Bottoms & Shapland, 2010; Hutchinson, 2006; Muncie, 2006, 2008; Robinson, 2008; Welsh & Farrington, 2012).

Desistance and Deterrence

Desistance research is situated within a larger body of recent research on pathways into and out of crime that increasingly incorporates the voices of youth on risks and protectors, especially the voices of youth positioned at the margins of society where coming into conflict with the law is both commonplace and a marker of identity or status, particularly for males (Bottrell, 2007; Bracken, Deane & Morrissette, 2009; Bryne & Trew, 2008; Haigh, 2009; Hasley, 2006; Hartman, Little & Ungar, 2008). …

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