The Young Offender's Act Debate

The Young Offender's Act Debate

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Under fire from the date of its creation, the debate over the validity of the Young Offender’s Act continues. Should the YOA remain in its current form as a part of the Canadian legal system? An examination of the reasons it is seen as being ineffective, the need for change, and the suggested amendments and substitutes will provide an accurate picture of the situation from which a conclusion can be drawn. The young offenders act in its current form is nearly optimal. However, there enough reasons for its alteration that a serious consideration of amendments should be considered.

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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Therefore, however unreasonable it may seem, reintroducing a similar act merely to stave off public outcry may solve the public perception problem, as there clearly are no adequate grounds to do so otherwise.

There have been many suggested amendments, replacements and fixes proposed for the current YOA. Some suggest that we lower the age for trial under the YOA to a maximum age of 15 and a minimum, age of 10 (OCCC 1999). This is in response to the increase in crimes outside the current limits – making those kids feel harsher punishments. Another suggestion that has many people in agreement is to publish the names of serious, violent or repeat offenders to make them responsible for their actions (OCCC 1999). As well there is a proposal up for a ‘Safe Schools Act’ that would promise zero violence tolerance among other increased and visibly harsh punishments. Bill Good, a news commentator for BCTV has often considered youth justice in our country and come to the following conclusions: “Many people think that if we just get tough with these young people the world will be safer. Wrong! We have to find ways to identify them early, and intervene and redirect them whenever possible” (1998 171). So, summing up, it would seem a good strategy to keep the current act with a few of the above ideas as well as maintaining a higher priority for public protection and crime prevention.

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.
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