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There are a number of reasons why the YOA has been seen as ineffective. There is, in the public, a widespread perception that the YOA is not working at all. This is due to the large amount of misinformation that is sensationalized ruthlessly by the media (Good 1998 7). High profile cases of violent offenders leak, and, lacking details, the media presents an incomplete account of details to the public. As a result some people think that there are kids who know how to “beat the system” and are now out committing crimes with no fear of being seriously reprimanded. But, as one analyst and researcher reports “There are virtually no data … that would permit an examination of this assumption” (Peterson-Badali and Koegl 1998 p127). Since once of the functions of the act is to protect the public, their fears are one a problem that needs to be addressed in any amendments that may go forward.
There is, however, debate over the need for change. Some say the current act is much too easy on youths and that they’re getting away with too much. There are reasons situations, such as these misinterpreted ones, have come about. The YOA was designed keeping youth protection in mind, and experts in the area tend to refer to the fact that “…repeated studies have shown that it is not the severity of punishment which deters crime, but the certainty of it” (Daunt 1998 7). Therefore it is not surprising that thousands of good kids have been helped, and not hindered, by the current legislation on their way to a productive life (Good 1998 171). As well, the current YOA does have serious consequences for violent offenders, many of them ending up in adult court (Daunt 1998 7). One may also begin to see a bit of a trend: The introduction of the YOA in 1984 was to assuage the publics perception of a weak Juvenile Delinquents Act and promised increased penalties for youth offenders (Daunt 1998 7).
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The Young Offenders Act should remain with a few minor amendments. Public perceptions will be addressed by publicizing changes in the act and reassuring them through various means. Refocusing the prime directives of the act from youth protection to public protection and crime prevention will curb youth violence. With these changes, the public may once again trust in a justice system that will deal with youth crime in both a real and perceivably adequate manner.