Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014
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Police-reported data in Canada show that young adults aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of criminal offending of any age group. In 2014, there were over 183,000 young adults accused of police-reported crimes, a rate of 5,428 individuals accused per 100,000 young adults.
In comparison, the rates of youth aged 12 to 17 accused (4,322 per 100,000), as well as the rates for adults aged 25 to 29 (4,712) and aged 30 to 34 (4,022) were notably lower.
Rate of young adults accused of crime declines from 2009 to 2014
From 2009 to 2014, the rate of young adults aged 18 to 24 accused of crime declined 31%, while the rate for youth aged 12 to 17 (-39%) had a larger decrease. Over that period, the rate of all individuals accused of crime in Canada fell 22%.
Most police-reported crimes committed by young adults are relatively minor
As with police-reported crime committed by youth aged 12 to 17, the criminal offences most frequently committed by young adults aged 18 to 24 were theft of $5,000 or under (727 per 100,000 young adults), common assault (682 per 100,000) and mischief (585 per 100,000). Of note, however, almost one-quarter of young adults accused of crime were accused in offences against the administration of justice (1,286 per 100,000 young adults). This group of offences includes offences arising from court processes, primarily failure to comply with the conditions of a sentence, breach of probation and failure to appear. Among young adults accused of criminal offences, 28% were accused in violent incidents.
Young adults more likely to be involved in serious crimes than other age groups
While most offences committed by young adults were relatively minor, young adults were more likely to be accused of serious crimes than individuals in other age groups. Rates of individuals accused of homicide and attempted murder and assault (levels 1, 2 and 3) were highest among young adults. In addition, young adults also had the highest rates of mischief, disturbing the peace and Criminal Code traffic violations compared with older adults and youth.
As a group, young adults had the highest rates of drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Individuals accused of cannabis possession accounted for two-thirds (67%) of all young adults accused in drug crimes. The rates of individuals accused of non-cannabis drug offences were notably higher among young adults than among youth aged 12 to 17. While cannabis possession peaked at age 18 in 2014, rates of non-cannabis drug offences peaked at age 21.
Youth aged 12 to 17 had higher rates than young adults for many property crimes, most notably breaking and entering and theft of $5,000 or under. Youth aged 12 to 17 also had higher rates than young adults for robbery and uttering threats. In addition, youth had the highest accused rates for sexual assault level 1 and sexual violations against children.
Police-reported crime rate peaks at age 17 and declines steadily through young adulthood, but this differs by offence type
According to police-reported data, the rate of criminal offending in Canada in 2014 was highest at age 17 and then declined steadily with age. However, this age pattern was not the same for all offence types. For some offences, rates were highest in youth or young adulthood and then declined rapidly with age, while for others, rates peaked in young adulthood and then declined more gradually.
For individuals accused of sexual offences, robbery, uttering threats, breaking and entering, motor vehicle theft, and theft of $5,000 or under, the highest accused rates occurred before age 18 and were considerably lower by age 25. Rates of homicide and attempted murder, major assault, mischief, and cannabis possession peaked between age 18 and 25 and were notably lower by age 30.
For other offences, however, offending declined with age but at a much more gradual rate. For common assault, the most frequent of violent offences for all age groups, accused rates were highest at both age 17 and 22 in 2014, varying little by age 30 (10% lower). Other crimes for which rates remained relatively high at age 30 were criminal harassment (which peaked at age 43 in 2014); fraud, including identity theft and identity fraud (highest at age 27); and non-cannabis-related drug offences (highest at age 21).
Police-reported rate of criminal offending by age differs in the territories
The territories show a notable variation from the typical association between police-reported criminal offending and age. The rate of individuals accused of crime in the territories in 2014 peaked at age 24 and continued to remain high until about age 50. This was mainly the result of high rates of non-violent offences, primarily mischief and disturbing the peace.
Note to readers
The report, "Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014," uses police-reported data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey to examine the nature of crime committed by young adults, and how it compares to crime among youth and older adults. It also examines changes in rates of offending as young people develop from adolescence to young adulthood and transition through their 20s.
As with the overall crime rate, the age-specific police-reported accused (crime) rates comprise violent crime, property crime and other Criminal Code violations. Like the overall crime rate, they do not include Criminal Code traffic offences or offences under other federal statutes, such as drug offences or violations specific to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
It is important to note that the age-specific accused rates in this report measure the number of individuals accused per 100,000 population of the relevant age group (such as the number of young adults accused per 100,000 young adults).
The Juristat article, "Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014" (85-002-X), is now available. From the Browse by key resource module of our website, under Publications, choose All subjects, then Crime and justice, and Juristat.
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