Anyone between the age of 12 and 17 is considered to be a “young person”, and falls under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). The YCJA differs significantly from the legislation that pertains to adult offenders. The purpose and principles to be applied when sentencing a youth are found in section 38 of the YCJA.
Purpose and Principles
The purpose of sentencing 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.
There are a number of principles that are taken into account when making this assessment. Of particular note the judge must impose the least restrictive sentence that is capable of achieving the purpose of youth sentencing, as stated above, and must consider all available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances. Further, the sentence must be the one that is most likely to rehabilitate the young person and reintegrate him or her into society, and promote a sense of responsibility in the young person, and an acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community.
Depending on the severity of the offence, and the young person’s circumstances, the young person may be eligible for “diversion”. This is an alternative measure that enables the young person to take responsibility for his or her actions by giving back to the community. Typically this will involve community service, counselling and/or a letter of apology. This list of options is not exhaustive. Ultimately upon completion, the charge(s) against the young person will be withdrawn.
In the event that the young person is not eligible for diversion, and the matter proceeds through the court, there are a number of options available to the sentencing judge. Below is a list of potential dispositions:
Reprimand: essentially a stern warning from the presiding judge.
Absolute/conditional discharge: an absolute discharge is removed from the youth record after one year (a conditional discharge takes three years).
Probation: There are a number of conditions that can attach to a probation order, including reporting, counselling, restitution, and community service.
Fine: in an amount not exceeding $1,000.
Restitution: payment compensating for damage/loss of property, etc.
Deferred custody: conditional supervision in the community; essentially, house arrest.
Open custody: a less stringent form of custody.
There is a misconception that youth records are “erased” as soon as the young person reaches the age of 18. In fact, the youth record may be sealed and inaccessible (to all but certain designates, such as the police etc.); however, there are exceptions to this. For example, there may be serious implications if the individual is convicted of an offence as an adult, depending on the lapse of time. If a conviction is registered within three to five years following the completion of the youth sentence, the youth disposition could actually show up on his or her adult record.