Youth custody and community services in Canada, 2007/2008

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by Rebecca Kong

Rate of youth admitted to remand increased in many jurisdictions in 2007/2008
Proportion of youth spending one week or less in remand has grown since 2004/2005
Large proportion of youth admitted to remand for other Criminal Code offences, which include administration of justice offences
Rate of youth admitted to sentenced custody continues to decline
Time youth spend in sentenced custody growing steadily in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia
Fewer young offenders convicted of property offences entering sentenced custody
Admissions to probation stabilizing since 2004/2005
Little fluctuation in the representation of female youth among admissions to custody
Aboriginal youth continue to be highly represented in admissions to corrections
Use of deferred custody and supervision is increasing
Average counts of youth in custody and on probation
Youth in remand outnumber youth in sentenced custody
Youth in sentenced custody and on probation
Summary
Detailed data tables
References
Notes

In 1998, the Department of Justice Canada introduced a "Strategy for Youth Justice" that approached youth justice with a framework that included crime prevention, education, child welfare, child mental health, family and the community. One component of the strategy was the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), introduced in 2003. The YCJA was implemented with several objectives: to improve decision-making in the youth justice system through the application of clear and coherent principles; to make more appropriate use of the courts; to achieve fairness in sentencing and reduce the use of custody so that the most serious interventions are reserved for the most serious crimes; to make clear distinctions between serious violent offences and less serious offences, and; to effectively reintegrate youth (Department of Justice Canada, 2003; Taylor-Butts and Bressan, 2008). The diversion of youth who commit non-violent and minor offences away from the formal justice system is a feature woven into the YCJA through the use of extrajudicial measures. Such measures include police taking no further action, informal police warnings, referrals to community programs, formal police cautions, Crown cautions, and extrajudicial sanction programs. 

During the first year of implementation, there were substantial decreases in the number of youth (aged 12 to 17 years) charged by police, appearing before youth courts and entering correctional services (Thomas, 2008; Milligan, 2008; Dauvergne, 2008). Court statistics indicate that the number of youth court cases has declined gradually each year between 2003/2004 and 2006/2007, the most recent year for which data are available. 

This Juristat article provides a statistical overview of youth admitted to and released from custody and community services in 2007/2008 and examines trends in admissions and releases since the YCJA came into effect, meaning 2003/2004 to 2007/2008. Information presented includes types of admissions, length of stays, and characteristics of youth such as type of offence, sex and Aboriginal status.

Survey coverage

This analysis is based on administrative data collected through the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey, which is conducted by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Not all provinces and territories reported complete data for every reference year. Exclusions due to non-reporting are noted throughout the article. Within the period of 2003/2004 through to 2007/2008, which is the focus of this article, the following data are not available:

  • All data for Prince Edward Island for 2005/2006, 2006/2007 and 2007/2008.
  • All data for Nunavut for 2007/2008.
  • Admissions to remand in Ontario for 2003/2004 and in Saskatchewan for all years.
  • Admissions to probation in Prince Edward Island for 2004/2005; in Nova Scotia for 2005/2006, 2006/2007 and 2007/2008; in the Northwest Territories for 2003/2004 and 2004/2005; in Nunavut for all years.
  • Lengths of time served in custody and in the community in Quebec for all years.
  • Data on characteristics of youth in Quebec and Nunavut for all years.
  • Data on the "most serious offence" in Saskatchewan for all years.

As Ontario did not provide complete data on remand in 2003/2004, the analysis of trends in remand in this article begins in 2004/2005.

Rate of youth admitted to remand increased in many jurisdictions in 2007/2008

In general, a young person may be remanded (held in temporary custody while awaiting trial or sentencing) into custody based on a judge's decision that he or she poses a danger to society, or that there may be a risk of failure to appear in court, or where detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice. The YCJA states that remand should not be used as a social measure, such as child protection. In addition, a youth can only be remanded if he or she has committed an offence for which he or she can be sentenced to custody if convicted (s.39(1) a-c of the YCJA).

Among the 10 jurisdictions that provided data on the number of youth who entered remand in 2007/20081, only in Ontario did the rate of admissions to remand decrease compared to the previous year (-3%) (Table 1). In the other jurisdictions, year over year increases ranged from 2% in Alberta to 37% in the Northwest Territories.

Since 2004/2005, the first year after the introduction of the YCJA for which most jurisdictions reported data, the rate of youth remanded to custody has increased 2%. The largest increases occurred in Nova Scotia (+134%) and the Yukon (+113%) (Table 1). Decreases were reported only by Quebec (-16%), Newfoundland and Labrador (-8%) and British Columbia (-8%).

Proportion of youth spending one week or less in remand has grown since 2004/2005

The proportion of youth who spent one week or less in remand before they were released rose slightly between 2004/2005 and 2007/2008 according to the nine jurisdictions that provided data.2 In 2007/2008, these youth accounted for 56% of all youth released from remand, up from 53% three years earlier. At the same time, the proportion of stays in remand which were greater than one week and up to one month, decreased from 28% to 26%. Stays in remand longer than one month and up to six months declined slightly from 18% to 17%.3 Youth released after spending more than six months in remand continued to be uncommon, remaining at 1%.

The proportion of stays in remand of one week or less have grown in most reporting jurisdictions with the largest shifts seen in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Yukon (Chart 1).

Chart 1
Proportion of youth released from remand after one week or less, selected jurisdictions, 2004/2005 and 2007/2008

Description

Chart 1 Proportion of youth released from remand after one week or less, selected jurisdictions, 2004/2005 and 2007/2008

Note: Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data. The earliest reference year in this table is 2004/2005 rather than 2003/2004 (first year of implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act) as 2003/2004 data for Ontario were incomplete. Percentages are based on total releases excluding where length of time spent in custody was unknown (which ranged between zero and less than 1% across all reporting jurisdictions).
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Youth Custody and Community Services Survey and Integrated Correctional Services Survey.

Large proportion of youth admitted to remand for other Criminal Code offences, which include administration of justice offences

Over one-third of youth entering remand in 2007/2008 had allegedly committed a violent offence as their most serious offence.4 An additional 25% had a property crime as their most serious alleged offence. At 28%, other Criminal Code offences (which include offences against the administration of justice such as breach of probation and failure to appear) accounted for a notable proportion of admissions to remand that year (Chart 2). An additional 10% were admitted for offences against the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which are also largely administrative offences. The remaining 2% were admitted mostly for alleged drug offences.

Based on their alleged offence, there has been little change since 2004/2005 in the mix of youth entering remand, according to the nine reporting jurisdictions.5 In 2004/2005, 30% of youth were alleged to have committed a violent offence prior to being admitted to remand. Since then, the proportion has remained at 35%. This increase since 2004/2005 is due to small decreases in the representation of youth admitted for property crimes, other Criminal Code offences and provincial or municipal offences.

The offences which youth are alleged to have committed prior to being admitted to remand varied by province and territory (Table 2). For example, the proportion of youth admitted to remand for violent offences ranged from 19% in Newfoundland and Labrador to 62% in the Northwest Territories. In British Columbia, the largest proportion of youth admitted to remand entered because of "other offences" (40%), the vast majority of which were YCJA offences.

Overall, increases in the rate at which youth are admitted to remand may be associated with breaches of conditions under community sanctions, such as the community portion of a custody and supervision order and the deferred custody and supervision order. These represent new community sanctions introduced under the YCJA.

Chart 2
Proportion of admissions to sentenced custody and remand by most serious offence, selected jurisdictions, 2007/2008

Description

Chart 2 Proportion of admissions to sentenced custody and remand by most serious offence, selected jurisdictions, 2007/2008

1. YCJA refers to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Note: For sentenced custody and remand, excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data. Percentages are based on total offences excluding unknowns (which accounted for 3% of admissions to sentenced custody and 2% of admissions to remand).
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Youth Custody and Community Services Survey and Integrated Correctional Services Survey.

Rate of youth admitted to sentenced custody continues to decline

Since the implementation of the YCJA, the rate of youth admitted to sentenced custody has been declining and this continued in 2007/2008. Among the 11 reporting jurisdictions, the rate of youth admitted to secure custody declined 6% between 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, while the rate of those admitted to open custody decreased 4% (Table 3 and Table 4).6 In all, there were 4,457 youth admitted to sentenced custody in 2007/2008 (Table 5).

Among the reporting jurisdictions in 2007/2008, the rate of youth admitted to sentenced custody increased from the previous year in Quebec, British Columbia and the Yukon. Only in Quebec did the rates of admissions to secure and open custody both increase (Table 3 and Table 4).

Since 2003/2004, all reporting jurisdictions, except Nova Scotia and the Yukon, have witnessed decreases in the rate of youth admitted to sentenced custody (Table 5).   

Time youth spend in sentenced custody growing steadily in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia

Among the jurisdictions that have reported data since 2003/2004, changes in the length of time youth spend in sentenced custody have differed. The proportion of youth released after serving one month or less in sentenced custody decreased substantially in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia (Chart 3)—meaning a greater proportion of youth in these jurisdictions are spending longer periods of time in sentenced custody. In fact, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the median number of days spent in sentenced custody has grown from 105 days in 2003/2004 to 206 days in 2007/2008, and from 129 to 254 days in Nova Scotia.7 

In New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta and the Yukon, the proportion of youth released after serving one month or less has generally been higher in the years following the first year the YCJA was implemented. 

In Ontario, the proportion of youth released after serving one month or less in sentenced custody jumped from 36% in 2003/2004 to 47% in 2004/2005 and has declined slightly each year since then. 

Chart 3
Proportion of releases from sentenced custody after one month or less, selected jurisdictions, 2003/2004 and 2007/2008

Description

Chart 3 Proportion of releases from sentenced custody after one month or less, selected jurisdictions, 2003/2004 and 2007/2008

Note: Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut due to missing data.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Youth Custody and Community Services Survey and Integrated Correctional Services Survey.

Fewer young offenders convicted of property offences entering sentenced custody

Almost 4 in 10 youth who entered sentenced custody in 2007/2008 were admitted because a violent crime was their most serious offence at conviction. An additional 27% were admitted for property crimes, while 16% were admitted for other Criminal Code offences (Chart 2). A notable proportion of youth entered sentenced custody that year due to offences against the YCJA (17%), which are largely administration of justice offences such as failure to comply with a disposition.

According to data from the nine jurisdictions that have consistently reported since 2003/2004,8 a decline in the number of youth convicted of property offences is fuelling a shift in the composition of youth in sentenced custody. Between 2003/2004 and 2007/2008, the number of youth entering sentenced custody for property crimes dropped by more than 50%, while the number admitted for violent offences declined by 12%. As a result, among the reporting jurisdictions, 39% of youth admitted to sentenced custody in 2007/2008 had been convicted with violent crimes and 27% with property crimes. The reverse was true in 2003/2004 when 29% were admitted as a result of violent crimes and 36% due to property crimes.

Admissions to probation stabilizing since 2004/2005

Probation has historically been the most common sentence imposed in youth courts and this trend is reflected in the youth corrections system. In 2007/2008, 10 jurisdictions reported almost 17,600 youth admitted to probation.9 These accounted for about 40% of all reported admissions to youth correctional service programs that year. Programs include remand, sentenced custody, and other community supervision programs such as deferred custody.

After the implementation of the YCJA, the number of youth sentenced to probation in youth courts fell dramatically (Milligan, 2008). This is likely related to the diversion of less serious crimes away from the court system through the use of alternative measures. Youth corrections also witnessed a notable decrease in the rate of youth admitted to probation in the second year following the implementation of the YCJA, but admissions to probation have stabilized since (Table 6). Due to decreases in British Columbia and Ontario, the rate of youth admitted to probation decreased 1% from 2006/200710 and is down 22% from 2003/2004.

Little fluctuation in the representation of female youth among admissions to custody

Overall, the representation of females in custody has changed little over the years since the implementation of the YCJA. Females in the youth system continue to account for a larger proportion of admissions than do females in the adult system. Overall, in 2007/2008, females accounted for 20% of youth admitted to remand, 17% of those admitted to sentenced custody and 24% of those admitted to probation (Table 7). Within the adult system in 2006/2007, the most recent year for which data on adults are available, females accounted for 12% of adults admitted to remand, for 7% admitted to sentenced custody (provincial or territorial and federal) and for 18% admitted to probation.

While little overall change has occurred in the representation of females in the youth correctional system, there are some jurisdictional differences. Among the nine jurisdictions that reported data on the sex of youth admitted to remand,11 the representation of female youth increased between 2004/2005 and 2007/2008 in Newfoundland and Labrador (from 19% to 26%), Nova Scotia (from 11% to 24%), the Yukon (from 0% to 22%) and the Northwest Territories (from 26% to 40%) (Table 7). In the remaining reporting jurisdictions, the representation of female youth among admissions to remand decreased or remained stable.

With respect to sentenced custody, female representation was either stable or down slightly in 5 of the 10 jurisdictions that reported data from 2003/2004 to 2007/2008.12 Nova Scotia and the Yukon saw sharp increases in 2007/2008 compared to previous years.

Aboriginal youth continue to be highly represented in admissions to corrections

In 2007/2008, there were over 4,700 Aboriginal youth admitted to some form of custody in the reporting jurisdictions and over 2,700 were admitted to probation.13 The representation of Aboriginal youth among all youth admitted to correctional services is higher than their representation in the general population. This is evident in all provinces and territories (Table 8).  

However, since the implementation of the YCJA, the representation of Aboriginal youth has increased somewhat. Among admissions to remand, increases in the representation in Manitoba and Alberta pushed the overall representation from 23% in 2004/2005 to 25% in 2007/2008 (Table 8). Among admissions to sentenced custody, notable increases in the representation of Aboriginal youth occurred in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba.

Use of deferred custody and supervision is increasing

With the addition of the community portion of custody and supervision orders and the new deferred custody and supervision order sentences, there are more community corrections sanctions available under the YCJA than were available prior to its implementation.

The community portion of custody and supervision orders (CPCS) is meant to allow the reintegration of the youth from custody into the community. It is similar to a federal statutory release where, ordinarily the final third of a custody sentence is served under community supervision. Because they are a mandatory part of a custody sentence, trends in CPCSs will follow trends in the use of custody.

A deferred custody and supervision order sentence is similar to a conditional sentence for an adult and allows a youth who would otherwise be sentenced to custody to serve the sentence in the community under a number of strict conditions. Any breach of these conditions may result in the youth being sent to custody. The use of deferred custody and supervision order has increased in most jurisdictions since it first became available under the YCJA in 2003 (Table 9). 

Intensive support and supervisions programs are another community sentencing option available under the YCJA which are similar to probation but have a higher degree of supervision and support. This type of sentence falls within an "opt-in" clause under the legislation and thus provinces and territories decide whether or not such programs will be available in their jurisdiction. Because it is "opt-in" and is a new sentencing option under the YCJA, data from earlier years are not complete making trend analysis difficult. However, in 2007/2008, seven jurisdictions14 reported admitting 390 youth to this type of program. The vast majority of these were reported by British Columbia (305), followed by Quebec (45) and Alberta (18).

Average counts of youth in custody and on probation

While admissions data provide an overview of the caseload flowing through the various correctional services programs, data on average counts provide a snapshot of the number of youth in custody on any given day and the number of youth in community supervision at the end of any given month. Average counts are the universally accepted unit of measure used to compare incarceration rates between jurisdictions, between countries and over time.

Youth in remand outnumber youth in sentenced custody

The year 2007/2008 marked the first time since the introduction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, that, on any given day, there were more young people aged 12 to 17 being held in remand awaiting trial or sentencing than those serving a custodial sentence.

The use of remand has increased since 2003/2004 when the YCJAcame into effect. Prior to the introduction of the YCJA, remand counts for youth had been relatively stable.

The average number of youth held in remand while awaiting trial or sentencing reached 1,009 in 2007/2008 (Table 10). This was a 7% increase from the year before and a 19% increase from 2003/2004. There were 991 youth in sentenced custody in 2007/2008.

Youth in sentenced custody and on probation

Since the introduction of the YCJA in 2003, the average number of youth in sentenced custody on any given day has declined steadily. In 2007/2008, there were 36% fewer youth in sentenced custody than in 2003/2004.

The decrease in the average number of youth in sentenced custody since the enactment of the YCJAhas offset the increase in the average number in remand. As a result, overall there have been fewer youth in custody in the years following the YCJAcompared with years prior to its enactment.

The average number of young offenders on probation has also declined since the implementation of the new youth legislation. The new sentencing provisions of the YCJArequire that youth serve the final third of custody sentences in the community under supervision. This mandatory supervision in the community could be contributing to a reduction in the use of probation.

Summary

Since the implementation of the YCJA, the pattern of admissions to youth corrections has changed in a few ways. The rates of youth admitted to sentenced custody and probation have declined while the rate of youth admitted to the new sentence of deferred custody and supervision has grown. For sentenced custody, the decrease is evident in most reporting jurisdictions. A notable decline in the number of youth admitted to sentenced custody for property crimes has shifted the composition of youth entering sentenced custody whereby a larger proportion are entering due to convictions for violent crimes. While the rate of youth admitted to remand continues to rise, many jurisdictions report that the length of time youth are spending in remand is decreasing. The representation of females in admissions to custody has not fluctuated notably overall since the implementation of the YCJA, and the representation of Aboriginal youth continues to be high.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Rate of admissions of youth to remand, by province and territory, 2004/2005 to 2007/2008

Table 2 Distribution of youth admitted to remand, sentenced custody and probation, by most serious offence, by province and territory, 2007/2008

Table 3 Rate of admissions of youth to secure custody, by province and territory, 2003/2004 to 2007/2008

Table 4 Rate of admissions of youth to open custody, by province and territory, 2003/2004 to 2007/2008

Table 5 Rate of admissions of youth to total sentenced custody (secure and open), by province and territory, 2003/2004 to 2007/2008

Table 6 Rate of admissions of youth to probation, by province and territory, 2003/2004 to 2007/2008

Table 7 Proportion of youth admitted to correctional services who were female, by province and territory, 2003/2004 and 2007/2008

Table 8 Proportion of youth admitted to correctional services who were Aboriginal, by province and territory, 2003/2004 and 2007/2008

Table 9 Rate of admissions of youth to deferred custody and supervision, by province and territory, 2003/2004 to 2007/2008

Table 10 Average daily count of youth in custody, by province and territory, 2007/2008

References

Dauvergne, Mia. 2008. "Crime statistics in Canada, 2007." Juristat. Vol. 28, no. 7. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE. Ottawa.
/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008007-eng.pdf (accessed on January 28, 2009).

Department of Justice Canada. 2003. The Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and Background. Ottawa.
http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/yj-jj/ycja-lsjpa/back-hist.html (accessed on January 3, 2009).

Milligan, Shelly. 2008. "Youth custody and community services in Canada, 2005/2006." Juristat. Vol. 28, no. 8. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE. Ottawa.
/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008008-eng.pdf (accessed on January 28, 2009).

Taylor-Butts, Andrea and Angela Bressan. 2008. "Youth crime in Canada, 2006." Juristat. Vol. 28, no. 3. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE. Ottawa.
/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008003-eng.pdf (accessed on January 28, 2009).

Thomas, Jennifer. 2008 "Youth court statistics, 2006/2007." Juristat. Vol. 28, no.4. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE. Ottawa.
/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2008004-eng.pdf (accessed on January 28, 2009).

Notes

  1. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  2. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  3. A comparison of the median days spent in remand custody upon release would be a more accurate measurement of changes in durations. While this is collected by the Youth Custody and Community Services Survey, not all respondents were able to supply it for all years.
  4. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  5. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  6. Excludes Prince Edward Island and Nunavut due to missing data.
  7. Median days are not used to analyze changes in length of time spent in sentenced custody for all jurisdictions as these data were not available from all jurisdictions for all reference years.
  8. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  9. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Nunavut due to missing data.
  10. In addition to exclusions noted in note 5, this trend excludes the Northwest Territories due to missing data in earlier years.
  11. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Nunavut due to missing data.
  12. Excludes Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Nunavut due to missing data.
  13. All types of custody for Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Nunavut are excluded, and remand for Saskatchewan is excluded. For probation, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Nunavut are excluded. 
  14. Data were reported by Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
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