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Young offenders

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There should be no special treatment for convicted young offenders. They should be treaded as adults.

In the year of 1982, Parliament passed the Young Offenders Act (YOA). Effective since 1984, the Young Offenders Act replaced the most recent version of the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The Young Offenders Act's purpose was to shift from a social welfare approach to making youth take responsibility for their actions. It also addressed concerns that the paternalistic treatment of children under the Juvenile Delinquents Act did not conform to Canadian human rights legislation.

The guiding principles of the Young Offenders Act include the following young people who commit offences must take responsibility for their actions. However, young people have special needs and cannot be held accountable for their illegal actions in the same way as adults. Society has a right to be protected from offences committed by youth. However, where possible, it is in society's best interest to address youth crime through social and community based solutions, rather than incarceration. Children have legal rights and freedoms, including those outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Parents have the right to be notified of all court proceedings affecting their child.

Major Differences between the Young Offenders Act and the Juvenile Delinquents Act

The legalistic approach of the Young Offenders Act represents a major change in legislation dealing with the treatment of juvenile delinquents.

* Instead of being charged with delinquency, children are charged with violating a specific statute or section of the Criminal Code. The sentence should reflect the seriousness of the crime.

* The Young Offenders Act's authority does not extend to provincial laws and statutes. In addition, it is no longer possible to transfer jurisdiction over certain cases to the provinces.

* It discontinues the practice of charging children with "status offences" that are not illegal for adults.

* It does not allow for indeterminate sentencing. Under the original 1984 Young Offenders Act, the maximum sentence for crimes that would not be punishable by a life sentence if committed by an adult was two years. The maximum sentence for crimes that would incur a life sentence if committed by an adult was three years.

* It raises the minimum age for charging a child from seven to twelve.

* It legislates the use of alternative forms of sentencing for youth, such as making restitution or performing a community service. Although judges made frequent use of alternative sentencing under the Young Offenders Act, their authority to do so was not spelled out in legislation.

* It establishes the right of youth to due process, such as the right to appeal and the right to legal counsel.

* It establishes a policy with respect to fingerprinting and photographing youth, and the disposition of youth court records

* It abolishes the offence of contributing to juvenile delinquency. Policymakers believed charging adults with this offence conflicted with the idea of making youth take responsibility for their actions

When is a Young Offender an Adult? Maximum Age Limits

Under the Young Offenders Act, the maximum age at which a youth could be prosecuted as a juvenile varied from province to province, and between genders in certain cases (Alberta set the maximum age at sixteen for boys, and eighteen for girls). By contrast, the Young Offenders Act legislated a uniform maximum age of seventeen across Canada. The Young Offenders Act applied to all youth who committed a crime before their eighteenth birthday.

Due to disagreement between individual provinces and the federal government on what the maximum age should be, this section of the Young Offenders Act was not implemented immediately. It came into effect in April 1985, to make the Young Offenders Act comply with the Equality provisions outlined in section 15 of the Charter.

The Young Offenders Act did not change the minimum age for adult court transfers. Fourteen remained the age at which youth charged with more serious offences could be transferred to adult court.

The Young Offenders Act moved away from the paternalistic approach to youth crime underlying the 1908 Juvenile Delinquents Act. The Young Offenders Act attempted to make youth more accountable for their actions, while promoting offender rehabilitation through treatment programs and providing detention alternatives for less serious crimes. However, critics have questioned the Young Offenders Act's effectiveness in meeting either of these goals.

Criticisms that the Young Offenders Act is too Soft

Following its implementation, the Young Offenders Act was attacked for being too lenient on young offenders. A series of highly publicized cases, where young offenders spent less than five years in jail for serious offences such as murder, fuelled public discontent. Criticism of the Act centered on four features:

1. Comparatively light sentences for violent offences

2. The implementation of a uniform maximum age

3. Conflicting conditions for transfers to adult court

4. Raising the minimum age for charging a child from seven to twelve

Under the 1984 Young Offenders Act, the maximum sentence delivered was three years in detention. Furthermore, this was limited to offences that would have received a life sentence if committed by an adult. The Act did contain a provision for transfers to adult court. However, when considering a court transfer, the judge had to take the needs of the young person, as well as society, into account. Finally, the Young Offenders Act set a uniform maximum age that was higher than the age previously set by several provinces.

The immediate result of these changes was a reduction in the number of young offenders transferred to adult court. In several cases, youth who would have received a stiff sentence prior to Young Offenders Act implementation served only two or three years in detention.

While less publicized, raising the minimum age from seven to twelve also created problems

1. First, children with previous involvement in criminal activity quickly realized they could commit crimes without any fear of retribution.

2. Second, older youth and adults began using younger children to commit crimes.

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