Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014

by Mary Allen

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Highlights

  • Police-reported data 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 crimes by police, representing a rate of 5,428 individuals accused per 100,000 young adults. In comparison, the rates of accused for youth aged 12 to 17 (4,322 per 100,000 youth) as well as for adults aged 25 to 29 (4,712) and 30 to 34 (4,022) were notably lower.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, the rate of all individuals accused of crime by police in Canada fell 22%. Over this timeframe, the overall rate for young adults accused declined 31%. However, the drop was greatest among young adults aged 18 and 19 (-37%), similar to that for youth aged 12 to 17 (-39%). The drop among 20- to 24-year-old young adults accused of crime was slightly smaller (-24%), but still greater than for adults aged 25 to 29 (-10%) and those aged 30 and older (-10%).
  • The criminal offences most frequently committed by young adults were theft of $5,000 or under (727 per 100,000 young adults), common assault (682 per 100,000 young adults), and mischief (585 per 100,000 young adults). 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)—primarily failure to comply with the conditions of a sentence, breach of probation and failure to appear. In addition, rates of individuals accused of cannabis possession were also high among young adults (747 per 100,000).
  • Rates of individuals accused of homicide and attempted murder, as well as assault (levels 1, 2 and 3), were highest among young adults compared to older adults and youth. In addition, young adults had the highest rates of mischief, disturbing the peace, Criminal Code traffic violations (primarily impaired driving), and “other” Criminal Code offences.
  • As a group, young adults had the highest rates of drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Two-thirds (67%) of all young adults accused in drug crimes were accused of cannabis possession. While cannabis possession peaked at age 18 in 2014, the rates of individuals accused of non-cannabis drug offences peaked later at age 21.
  • Although property crimes, such as theft of $5,000 or under, were common among young adults, they were generally more frequent among youth. Youth aged 12 to 17 had higher rates than young adults for many property crimes, most notably break and enter and theft of $5,000 or under. Youth 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 data show that, in 2014, overall criminal offending in Canada peaked at age 17 and then declined steadily with age, but the nature of the age-crime distribution differed by type of offence. For some offences, most notably theft of $5,000 or under, break and enter, uttering threats, robbery, motor vehicle theft, and sexual offences, accused rates peaked among youth before age 18, and were considerably lower by age 25.
  • Rates of homicide and attempted murder as well as major assault, mischief, and cannabis possession peaked among young adults, but were notably lower by age 30. For other crimes, offending declined with age, but the aging-out process appeared to be more gradual. These include common assault, criminal harassment, impaired driving, non-cannabis drug offences, as well as disturbing the peace.
  • The Territories show a notable variation from the association between criminal offending and age shown nationally. Instead, 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 is mainly the result of high rates of non-violent offences, primarily mischief and disturbing the peace.

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Together, young adults aged 18 to 24 and youth aged 12 to 17 account for over one-third of individuals accused in police-reported criminal incidents. While rates of youth accused of crime are higher than among adults in general, young adults—those adults aged 18 to 24—were accused of crime at higher rates than any other age group (Allen and Superle 2016). Since most offenders first commit crimes when they are young (Piquero et al. 2012), understanding crime among youth and young adults is an important part of finding ways to reduce crime overall.

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), youth aged 12 to 17 who are accused of crime are treated under the law in a manner that takes into account their reduced level of maturity and responsibility. Young people are considered adults under the law once they turn 18, and are entering a period of major life transitions. The Youth in Transition Survey found that, by age 26 to 28, 81% of young adults had participated in some form of postsecondary education and nearly 70% were employed full-time. In addition, about half of young adults aged 26 to 28 were in or had been in a relationship, and nearly a quarter (30% of females and 18% of males) had children (Shaienks et al. 2009).

Research has noted that an “aging out” of criminal behaviour is associated with life transitions such as employment and marriage, changing peer groups and a changing social environment (Farrington et al. 2012; Sweeten et al. 2013). Of note, some research into brain development suggests that young adults have not yet fully matured, and that their brains and the executive functions governing behaviour do not fully develop until about age 25 (Blakemore and Choudhury 2006; Steinberg et al. 2015).

A number of studies have examined the relationship between age and crime, and the factors that influence whether young people continue to offend (persist), or stop offending (desist) as they enter adulthood (Farrington et al. 2012; Piquero et al. 2012; Ulmer and Steffensmeier 2014). As noted above, many life transitions reduce the likelihood of offending; however involvement in the justice system—particularly incarceration and long sentences—has been shown to disrupt transitions into the adult roles associated with desistence from crime and is associated with repeat offending (Massoglia and Uggen 2010; Holman and Zeidenburg 2013; Wilson and Hoge 2013).

This Juristat uses police-reported data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) 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.

Rates of young adult crime

Young adults aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of criminal offending

Police-reported data 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 in police-reported criminal incidents, a rate of 5,428 individuals accused per 100,000 young adults.Note 1 In comparison, the rates of accused for youth aged 12 to 17 (4,322 per 100,000 youth) as well as for adults aged 25 to 29 (4,712) and 30 to 34 (4,022) were notably lower (Table 1).

Relative to other age groups, young adults had the highest rates of violent crime, drug offences, and “other” Criminal Code offences (primarily disturbing the peace and offences against the administration of justice) (Chart 1). They did not, however, have the highest rates of property crime, which were held by youth. In addition, rates of other federal statute violations (other than drug offences) were highest among youth because these are primarily violations under the YCJA, generally related to the administration of justice.

Chart 1

Description for Chart 1
Chart 1 Rate of persons accused of selected offences, by age group of accused and offence type, 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  Older adults aged 25 and over Young adults aged 18 to 24 Youth aged 12 to 17
Other federal statute violations 25 71 221
Drug offences 215 1,108 657
Criminal Code traffic violations 252 506 53
Other Criminal Code offences 699 1,945 918
Property crime 701 1,959 2,124
Violent crime 649 1,524 1,281
Note:
Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population in each age group. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Excludes accused where age is over 89. See table 1 for a list of offences comprising each offence type.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

About one in four young adults accused is a female

Females comprised about one in four (24%) young adults accused of crime in 2014, the same proportion as among older adults. However, women made up higher proportions of young adults accused of theft of $5,000 or under (36%) and common assault (level 1) (30%).

Police-reported crime by young adults declining faster than crime overall

Like youth crime (where accused are aged 12 to 17), police-reported crime by young adults has been dropping steadily and at a faster rate than the drop in the overall crime rate. This was particularly pronounced among 18- and 19-year-olds (Chart 2).

Between 2009 and 2014, the rate of all individuals accused of crime by police in Canada fell 22%.Note 2 Over this timeframe, the rate of young adults aged 18 to 24 accused of crime declined 31%. The drop in rate was greatest among young adults aged 18 and 19 (-37%), similar to that for youth (-39%). The decrease among 20- to 24-year-olds was slightly smaller (-24%), but still greater than for 25- to 29-year-olds (-10%) as well as for adults aged 30 and older (-10%) (Chart 2).

Chart 2

Description for Chart 2
Chart 2 Decline in rate of individuals accused of crime, by age, 2009 to 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  12 to 17 years old 18 to 19 years old 20 to 24 years old 25 to 29 years old 30 and older
2009 7,033 9,295 6,877 5,223 1,963
2010 6,551 8,893 6,770 5,197 1,938
2011 6,016 8,249 6,517 5,186 1,916
2012 5,571 7,742 6,376 5,091 1,901
2013 4,740 6,723 5,738 4,879 1,834
2014 4,322 5,899 5,242 4,701 1,757
Note:
Rates are for total Criminal Code offences (excluding traffic). Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population in each age group. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Excludes accused where age is over 89.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Trend Database.

Nature of crime committed by young adults

As with police-reported youth crime, 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 young adults), and mischief (585 per 100,000 young adults). 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)—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.

In addition to offences under the Criminal Code, rates of individuals accused of drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were also high among young adults (1,108 per 100,000). Two-thirds (67%) of these young adults were accused of cannabis possession (747 per 100,000).

Most violent criminal incidents (60%) involving a young adult accused occurred in a private residence. Another 22% of incidents with young adult accused occurred in a street or open place, and 11% in a commercial establishment. Among property crimes involving a young adult accused, 42% occurred in a residence, another 38% occurred in a commercial establishment, and 15% in a street or open place.

Weapons (such as knives, firearms, or clubs or blunt instruments) were slightly more likely to be present in violent incidents involving young adult accused, in comparison to incidents where no young adult was accused (20% vs. 16%).Note 3 Regardless of the age of the accused, very few criminal incidents in 2014 involved a firearm. A firearm was present in 2.4% of violent incidents involving at least one young adult accused, and 1.6% of violent incidents involving no young adults accused.Note 4

Young adults have the highest rates of homicide/attempted murder and assault

Compared to youth and older adults, young adults had the highest police-reported accused rates for many of the most serious violent offences in 2014. Rates of individuals accused of homicide and attempted murder, as well as assault (levels 1, 2, and 3), were highest among young adults (Table 1).Note 5

In addition, young adults had the highest rates of cannabis-related drug offences, mischief, disturbing the peace, Criminal Code traffic violations (primarily impaired driving), and “other” Criminal Code offences (primarily weapons possession and obstructing a public peace officer) compared to older adults and youth.Note 6

Young adults also had the highest rates of violations against the administration of justice. It is worth noting that many administration of justice offences for youth (such as failure to comply with conditions) fall under the YCJA, and are therefore reported separately as a violation of that federal statute (and not of the Criminal Code). However, the rate of accused for young adults accused of administration of justice offences (1,286 per 100,000 young adults) exceeds the combined rates of youth accused of criminal violations against the administration of justice and violations under the YCJA (565 and 207 per 100,000 youth, respectively).

Although property crimes such as theft of $5,000 or under were still fairly common among young adults, they were generally more frequent among youth. Youth aged 12 to 17 had higher rates than young adults for many property crimes, most notably break and enter and theft of $5,000 or under. Youth also had higher rates than young adults for robbery and uttering threats in 2014. In addition, youth had the highest accused rates for sexual assault level 1 and sexual violations against children. This was also the case in previous years (Allen and Superle 2016) and has been noted in research from the United States (Finkelhor et al. 2009).

Only for criminal harassment, “other violent” Criminal Code violations, fraud (including identity theft and identity fraud) and impaired driving were the accused rates for some older adult age groups higher than for young adults, with the highest rates generally found among adults aged 25 to 29.Note 7 This age group also had rates of accused of theft over $5,000 and other Criminal Code traffic violations that were similar to those of young adults. Accused rates for criminal harassment, however, were highest among older adults aged 30 to 34.

Police-reported crime rate peaks at age 17 and declines steadily through young adulthood, but this differs by offence type

The police-reported rate of individuals accused of crime in 2014 increased with age in the teen years and peaked among 17-year-olds. Offending then declined rapidly among young adults (Chart 3). This is consistent with research literature showing that criminal behaviour tends to decline as individuals mature into adulthood (Farrington et al. 2012; Massoglia and Uggen 2010; Piquero et al. 2012; Sweeten et al. 2013; Ulmer and Steffensmeier 2014).

Chart 3

Description for Chart 3
Chart 3 Rates of individuals accused of crime, by age, 2014
  rate per 100,000 population
3 2.9
4 10.1
5 26.1
6 51.1
7 89.0
8 132.8
9 249.6
10 328.3
11 568.2
12 1,317.4
13 2,483.0
14 4,049.6
15 5,338.3
16 6,028.7
17 6,242.2
18 6,002.5
19 5,807.2
20 5,631.6
21 5,432.7
22 5,277.9
23 5,001.3
24 4,941.6
25 4,952.6
26 4,824.3
27 4,644.9
28 4,626.4
29 4,513.2
30 4,365.9
31 4,205.3
32 4,029.3
33 3,847.3
34 3,660.7
35 3,542.9
36 3,509.3
37 3,249.3
38 3,222.6
39 3,088.5
40 3,048.7
41 2,852.9
42 2,889.5
43 2,685.3
44 2,625.1
45 2,598.4
46 2,530.8
47 2,319.9
48 2,151.0
49 1,950.5
50 1,847.2
51 1,720.7
52 1,624.4
53 1,392.9
54 1,287.1
55 1,181.0
56 1,040.3
57 925.3
58 816.5
59 757.2
60 707.0
61 611.3
62 571.8
63 504.4
64 458.2
65 407.2
Note:
Rates are for all Criminal Code offences (excluding traffic). Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population at each age. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Accused under age 12 cannot be charged with an offence under the Criminal Code.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

However, the differences in criminal offending by age are not the same for all offences (Table 2). Instead, the ages at which offending peaks, and the period of aging out that follows, differ considerably between types of crime (Charts 4 to 7). Some offences peak in youth and decline rapidly with age, and others peak later in young adulthood but also decline relatively quickly with age. Some offences, however, peak in young adulthood but remain relatively high later into adulthood.

For individuals accused of sexual offences, robbery, uttering threats, break and enter, motor vehicle theft, and theft of $5,000 or under (offences where the highest rates were among youth), the highest accused rates occurred before age 18 and were much lower by age 25 (Chart 4). For example, accused rates for the most common of these offences, theft of $5,000 or under, were highest among 16-year-olds in 2014. That same year, rates of those aged 25 accused of this offence type were 54% lower than among 16-year-olds.

Chart 4

Description for Chart 4
Chart 4 Selected offences which peak during youth and decline rapidly with age, 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  Sexual offences1 Robbery Uttering threats Break and enter Motor vehicle theft Theft of $5,000 or under
12 54.1 9.0 89.1 106.8 24.3 265.6
13 85.2 32.3 155.3 187.6 49.3 532.9
14 105.3 82.5 214.2 262.5 88.3 1,024.9
15 110.4 139.5 285.0 360.5 155.8 1,283.5
16 102.8 205.2 279.5 380.8 159.5 1,344.3
17 96.5 198.0 275.6 399.5 156.3 1,213.9
18 87.4 170.4 203.5 324.0 127.0 1,001.8
19 77.2 125.5 199.7 270.5 113.4 827.6
20 73.5 112.5 190.9 239.1 106.4 736.7
21 68.1 91.2 191.8 229.0 95.9 678.3
22 69.9 92.6 172.8 171.8 82.9 644.1
23 59.9 71.9 180.8 170.8 68.9 626.8
24 59.0 73.6 175.0 171.4 77.0 611.2
25 61.5 70.9 174.6 183.0 86.4 616.2
26 55.2 73.5 171.1 168.3 81.6 614.9
27 55.1 58.9 163.9 167.4 67.2 593.3
28 57.5 58.1 182.2 147.4 66.7 600.1
29 50.9 64.4 185.0 177.1 75.4 562.5
30 52.1 56.1 184.1 167.9 57.1 586.0
31 47.5 51.9 170.3 153.3 51.7 570.0
32 54.1 42.4 167.7 191.4 53.3 563.1
33 48.2 40.0 177.0 150.5 57.1 557.5
34 48.1 32.4 181.8 127.8 49.1 510.0
35 45.3 38.2 162.7 128.3 42.6 513.3
36 50.1 32.7 171.0 132.1 47.4 516.8
37 41.1 25.6 148.9 109.0 41.1 473.3
38 46.0 22.6 154.9 131.0 35.4 427.6
39 49.3 27.5 151.9 124.6 33.5 447.1
40 48.8 25.1 153.5 97.1 35.6 424.0
41 51.1 18.8 152.6 88.6 32.3 416.1
42 49.2 21.1 146.6 90.3 32.0 398.4
43 39.3 23.0 151.9 89.9 24.7 371.2
44 40.6 17.2 147.0 84.3 24.2 375.1
45 39.8 17.1 139.1 80.7 23.8 357.9
46 33.2 13.0 136.2 83.7 20.6 373.3
47 35.2 12.1 130.3 69.3 20.6 356.5
48 37.3 13.6 131.7 63.8 20.5 309.1
49 37.2 9.6 107.9 52.9 15.9 299.2
50 35.2 10.2 113.5 44.5 13.8 283.1
51 25.5 7.1 102.5 62.1 17.1 247.2
52 26.6 7.5 103.9 31.3 11.1 250.6
53 23.1 4.9 84.1 30.1 8.3 223.6
54 17.4 3.5 85.6 26.3 5.5 222.4
55 21.5 4.1 75.7 23.7 5.6 212.5
56 21.7 3.2 72.7 23.3 7.8 182.9
57 18.2 2.5 62.4 18.4 5.3 158.5
58 18.4 2.6 58.4 13.9 3.6 154.3
59 15.6 3.1 53.3 12.3 4.1 131.2
60 21.8 1.5 48.2 8.1 2.8 136.8
61 14.6 2.0 44.1 5.2 1.6 119.7
62 14.3 0.7 43.1 8.2 3.5 113.0
63 14.6 1.0 37.4 5.8 1.7 103.5
64 16.0 1.7 30.0 4.2 1.0 102.0
Sexual offences include sexual assault (levels 1, 2, and 3) as well as sexual violations against children.
Note:
Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population at each age in 2014. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Accused under age 12 cannot be charged with an offence under the Criminal Code.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

Other offences peaked later, in young adulthood, and also showed a relatively rapid aging out, suggested by lower rates by age 30 (Chart 5). The rate of homicide and attempted murder was highest among 20-year-olds in 2014 (10.7 per 100,000), but was about half that rate (5.3) at age 30.Note 8 Similar declines can be seen for major assault and cannabis possession (which peak at age 18). In the case of mischief and other cannabis-related drug offences (which peak at age 17), most of the decline by age 30 occurs during young adulthood (40% and 52% lower at age 25).Note 9 Rates for administrative justice offences peaked at age 20 and then declined with age at a relatively steady rate.

Chart 5

Description for Chart 5
Chart 5 Selected offences which peak during young adulthood and decline rapidly with age, 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  Homicide and attempted murder Major assault Mischief Offences against the administration of justice1 Cannabis possession Other cannabis-related offences
12 0.3 73.0 242.1 61.5 43.2 1.9
13 0.3 123.2 414.3 183.3 157.1 12.9
14 0.5 151.0 560.7 459.1 353.1 28.5
15 1.5 190.6 642.1 704.5 621.7 54.7
16 7.7 229.5 742.2 915.6 843.6 85.2
17 9.5 273.0 790.6 975.5 1,064.3 112.9
18 9.2 284.4 743.3 1,186.7 1,129.9 112.0
19 10.2 281.8 652.2 1,308.0 956.5 103.6
20 10.7 272.0 589.4 1,357.7 808.9 94.5
21 9.5 256.8 579.9 1,341.1 704.3 88.3
22 9.7 259.2 545.0 1,313.1 626.6 72.1
23 6.2 253.4 503.9 1,279.4 557.7 72.5
24 10.1 263.4 501.3 1,211.3 501.3 60.4
25 8.8 235.0 476.8 1,250.2 437.8 54.5
26 8.6 243.7 481.3 1,174.5 391.8 59.4
27 6.5 223.2 452.2 1,113.5 337.6 50.9
28 6.5 216.1 427.7 1,140.1 321.4 49.9
29 4.9 208.3 434.0 1,094.6 286.5 51.9
30 5.3 198.7 393.4 1,062.1 253.6 41.7
31 4.6 192.9 372.9 1,052.0 232.7 40.4
32 3.2 186.0 363.6 977.8 217.4 38.3
33 4.0 163.1 318.4 889.2 195.5 33.3
34 4.9 160.8 333.3 828.1 176.5 36.3
35 3.5 154.8 300.3 810.6 145.2 32.3
36 5.1 150.0 288.7 803.1 148.3 26.6
37 1.5 137.4 280.5 737.6 136.3 30.7
38 4.3 146.6 305.1 693.5 118.0 26.6
39 2.3 128.7 291.1 668.2 114.8 27.1
40 2.6 130.1 279.5 673.8 106.7 23.4
41 2.2 122.7 250.0 602.8 113.7 22.3
42 2.4 121.5 276.7 616.0 104.1 23.4
43 3.3 116.5 255.0 586.2 87.5 22.0
44 2.5 109.1 255.2 556.3 92.8 18.4
45 1.5 106.4 254.0 517.0 82.6 23.6
46 2.7 105.7 265.3 512.7 78.4 21.2
47 2.9 97.4 220.2 464.7 76.6 18.7
48 1.8 90.0 206.1 421.0 74.0 20.5
49 1.3 90.6 181.7 372.6 72.1 23.8
50 1.6 73.6 181.9 328.7 65.6 17.4
51 2.5 70.3 164.2 319.4 61.5 16.1
52 1.5 61.8 159.3 288.7 65.4 18.6
53 1.3 56.6 135.7 244.2 51.7 16.4
54 2.6 49.4 120.7 219.5 53.1 17.6
55 2.3 47.1 107.8 195.7 48.2 16.0
56 1.0 44.6 92.1 170.1 39.1 12.6
57 1.2 36.6 66.1 157.9 35.6 13.7
58 1.0 32.1 67.7 142.2 29.1 8.7
59 1.4 31.2 66.8 105.8 28.7 9.2
60 1.7 24.0 69.8 98.5 23.1 9.0
61 1.1 18.0 55.8 87.6 17.6 8.3
62 0.9 23.9 49.9 78.1 17.3 8.4
63 0.5 16.3 46.0 64.2 14.6 6.0
64 0.5 21.9 37.8 55.5 11.5 6.9
Includes failure to comply with an order, failure to appear, breach of probation and other violations against the administration of law and justice.
Note:
Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population at each age in 2014. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Accused under age 12 cannot be charged with an offence under the Criminal Code.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

In contrast, other crimes do not show a similarly rapid decline in accused rates by age (Chart 6). 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,Note 10 varying little by age 30 (10% lower). Other crimes for which rates remain relatively high at age 30 are criminal harassment (which actually peaked at age 43 in 2014), fraud (including identity theft and identity fraud), and non-cannabis-related drug offences (peaking at age 27 and 21, respectively). The rate of accused for disturbing the peace was 29% lower at age 30 than at the peak age of 22, but continued to be relatively high to about age 50.

Chart 6

Description for Chart 6
Chart 6 Selected offences which peak during young adulthood and decline gradually with age, 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  Common assault Criminal harassment Fraud (including identity theft and identity fraud) Disturbing the peace Non-cannabis-related drug offences
12 221.6 17.5 9.8 25.4 1.6
13 385.4 38.3 16.7 64.4 15.4
14 527.1 43.6 32.9 116.2 40.0
15 686.0 57.0 50.5 173.6 79.7
16 693.0 60.4 76.8 229.8 122.2
17 716.3 62.9 112.2 301.8 172.5
18 627.7 58.4 182.7 363.1 231.9
19 686.5 53.5 187.3 413.9 263.2
20 692.4 52.6 203.2 404.2 273.8
21 712.3 51.8 192.5 414.0 301.8
22 715.8 54.0 200.9 415.4 290.2
23 659.0 56.7 180.2 400.0 279.1
24 674.1 57.0 184.5 378.8 286.2
25 703.8 63.7 185.4 342.0 298.1
26 668.9 53.3 183.6 363.9 289.0
27 670.1 67.2 211.3 330.1 278.3
28 650.6 59.9 203.9 352.7 261.5
29 650.4 61.6 191.3 326.0 253.3
30 645.8 64.8 191.0 295.6 266.6
31 611.2 66.3 183.2 280.6 248.0
32 580.6 57.4 151.9 272.1 221.8
33 557.9 65.7 184.2 272.6 219.6
34 557.1 65.0 164.5 277.4 198.1
35 559.0 66.4 142.9 248.7 181.3
36 522.1 68.4 131.7 281.4 177.1
37 515.6 70.7 134.2 245.4 156.1
38 508.8 64.3 141.0 274.8 148.1
39 489.6 63.0 112.9 233.7 139.8
40 469.1 62.5 114.4 273.6 134.5
41 449.3 66.6 109.6 253.9 113.1
42 441.9 64.7 113.1 272.4 110.1
43 410.3 71.8 92.2 233.3 115.2
44 404.1 61.1 93.0 232.2 103.6
45 405.0 59.0 100.3 266.6 97.6
46 368.5 58.4 91.6 267.6 101.9
47 348.2 52.2 80.3 240.8 91.4
48 312.5 62.8 79.9 227.0 76.8
49 294.2 53.0 70.8 194.6 77.4
50 273.6 45.6 67.4 226.3 72.7
51 245.4 53.0 55.8 197.2 67.6
52 240.0 43.0 42.1 223.0 60.0
53 200.6 44.0 53.0 178.6 56.4
54 199.8 35.4 42.1 155.9 47.9
55 168.1 36.5 39.0 150.0 41.4
56 155.0 26.3 35.7 119.4 35.3
57 142.6 25.0 32.5 121.5 30.9
58 121.2 20.2 22.4 87.4 32.1
59 119.9 25.4 34.6 80.1 21.3
60 109.4 15.4 28.5 80.1 18.2
61 96.1 21.8 19.1 69.1 14.9
62 78.1 14.8 16.2 68.0 15.2
63 72.8 15.8 25.9 50.8 12.0
64 70.8 12.3 13.5 50.6 9.8
Note:
Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population at each age in 2014. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Accused under age 12 cannot be charged with an offence under the Criminal Code.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

Geographic difference in the age-distribution of crime

Geographic differences in young adult crime generally reflect differences in overall crime

In 2014, the rate of young adults accused of crime was lowest in Ontario (3,881), Quebec (3,890), Prince Edward Island (4,391), British Columbia (4,628), and New Brunswick (4,811). As with overall police-reported crime, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Territories reported the highest rates of young adult crime. Crime rates among young adults were higher than for other age groups in all provinces and territories except in New Brunswick, where youth were more likely to be accused of crime (Table 3 and Table 4).

Rate of offending peaks at age 17 and declines steadily with age in all provinces, but not in the Territories

As shown earlier, the rate of criminal offending in Canada peaked at age 17 and then declined steadily with age. Research shows that this inverse relationship between age and criminal activity is seen in most countries and time periods, with some variations (Ulmer and Steffensmeier 2014). In Canada, the Territories (combined) show a notable variation from this pattern.Note 11 Instead of peaking among youth and then declining, 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. In fact, while rates are highest among young adults in most jurisdictions including the Territories, recent research has shown that unlike in the provinces, rates of individuals in the Territories accused of all major types of crime (violent, property and other) were higher among those aged 45 to 54 than among youth aged 12 to 17 (Allen and Perreault 2015).

Nationally, accused rates at age 30 were 30% lower than at age 17, and 51% lower by age 40 than at age 17. However, this was not the case in the Territories, where 30-year-olds were more likely to be accused of crime than 17-year-olds (with rates 17% higher), and only slightly less likely at age 40 (-1%) (Chart 7).

Chart 7

Description for Chart 7
Chart 7 Crime peaks at a later age in the Territories and remains high longer, 2014, rate per 100,000 population
  Territories Canada
12 9,524 1,317
13 17,261 2,483
14 19,857 4,050
15 26,107 5,338
16 35,777 6,029
17 41,845 6,242
18 36,773 6,002
19 41,109 5,807
20 44,374 5,632
21 48,281 5,433
22 48,373 5,278
23 54,086 5,001
24 54,825 4,942
25 50,387 4,953
26 54,378 4,824
27 47,890 4,645
28 50,363 4,626
29 43,193 4,513
30 48,846 4,366
31 41,964 4,205
32 44,341 4,029
33 34,783 3,847
34 44,339 3,661
35 35,860 3,543
36 32,877 3,509
37 27,977 3,249
38 43,136 3,223
39 43,094 3,088
40 41,344 3,049
41 34,866 2,853
42 40,175 2,890
43 40,383 2,685
44 39,150 2,625
45 37,500 2,598
46 45,194 2,531
47 42,131 2,320
48 40,504 2,151
49 32,773 1,950
50 33,849 1,847
51 25,178 1,721
52 31,914 1,624
53 20,474 1,393
54 19,646 1,287
55 17,290 1,181
56 19,351 1,040
57 13,016 925
58 12,613 816
59 11,037 757
60 11,137 707
61 8,863 611
62 10,732 572
63 11,804 504
64 7,609 458
Note:
Rates are for total Criminal Code offences (excluding traffic). Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population at each age in 2014. Populations are based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division.
Source:
Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 2014.

The high rates of criminal offending among older individuals in the Territories are most notable for non-violent criminal offences. Compared to the accused rates at age 17, rates of individuals accused of non-violent crime in the Territories were 17% higher at age 30 and 8% higher at age 40.

For violent crime, there was a decline with age in the Territories, but it peaked later at age 24, followed by a more gradual decline than at the national level. Accused rates for violent crime in the Territories were 15% higher at age 30 than at age 17 (compared to 25% lower nationally). At age 40, however, accused rates were 32% lower than among 17-year-olds (compared to 44% lower nationally).

It is worth noting that high rates of individuals accused of crime in the Territories are primarily attributable to incidents of mischief and disturbing the peace. These two offences account for 64% of individuals accused of crime in the Territories, ranging from 41% of youth accused and 57% of young adult accused to 70% of accused aged 30 and older. In contrast, 18% of the total accused in Canada were involved in incidents of mischief or disturbing the peace, and this varied little with age. More information on crime in the North is available in the Juristat on Police-reported crime in Canada’s Provincial North and Territories, 2013 (Allen and Perreault 2015).

Summary

Young adults aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of overall criminal offending of all age groups. As with youth crime, the rate of young adults accused of crime has fallen considerably in recent years (31% between 2009 and 2014) and at a faster pace than accused rates overall (-22%). The most common offences committed by young adults in 2014 were theft of $5,000 or under, cannabis possession, common assault, and mischief, as well as offences against the administration of justice.

Generally speaking, police-reported rates of criminal offending peak at age 17, then decline with age. However, this analysis of police-reported data shows that the decline in criminal offending differs by offence. Instead, the ages at which offending peaks, and the period of aging out that follows, differ considerably between types of crime. Some offences peak in youth and decline rapidly with age, and others peak later in young adulthood but also decline relatively quickly with age. Some offences, however, peak in young adulthood but remain relatively high later into adulthood.

While the general pattern of offending by age is reflected in the age-crime distributions for all of the provinces, this is not the case in the Territories. There, criminal offending continues at relatively high rates until about age 50, before beginning to decline. This is mainly the result of non-violent offences, primarily mischief and disturbing the peace.

Definitions and concepts

Measuring young adult crime

Similar to the overall police-reported crime rate, the accused rates presented in this report for youth, young adults and older individuals are comprised of violent crime, property crime, and other Criminal Code violations. It is important to note, however, that unlike the overall crime rate, which is based on the number of police-reported criminal incidents per 100,000 population, the accused rate by age group (such as the “youth crime rate”) measures the number of individuals in a specific age group accused in a police-reported criminal incident per 100,000 population in that same age group. In this report it is commonly referred to as the accused rate or rate of individuals accused of crimes.

Individuals accused of crimes by police may or may not be charged in the incident. Accused rates therefore include individuals who are charged as well as those who are not charged, but rather cleared through departmental discretion, because a complaint is withdrawn, or through alternative measures (such as those available for youth under the Youth Criminal Justice Act).

The age-specific police-reported accused rates presented in this report for total crime, like the overall crime rate, do not include Criminal Code traffic offences or offences under other Federal Statutes such as drug offences or violations of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Information on these offences is presented separately in this analysis.

It should also be noted that the accused rates count accused in each incident. Therefore, an individual accused in more than one criminal incident will be counted more than once in the rate. Similarly, there may be multiple accused counted for a single incident.

Youth crime rates in this report differ slightly from the rates published in CANSIM or other Juristat analyses of police-reported crime statistics, as the rates published in the present report are produced from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2), which uses a different method for counting accused than the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) used for standard dissemination of crime statistics. See the Survey description section for more information.

Interpreting the age-crime distribution

The age-crime distribution presented in this report represents the distribution of police-reported crime by age of accused. For the most part, the age-crime distributions approximate changes in offending behaviour for different age cohorts over time, showing the increase in criminal activity for youth through their teens and the aging out of crime in their 20s as explored in much of the research. However, it should be noted that the age-crime distributions presented here are based on cross-sectional information and do not take into account the downward trend in crime which may have an impact on the progression of criminal offending for specific age cohorts. For example, in 2013, the crime rate for 16- and 17-year-olds was 6,630 and 6,874, respectively. In 2014, it was 6,028 and 6,236. In both years, 17-year-olds had a higher rate of offending than 16-year-olds. However, the rate of offending for the cohort of youth aged 16 in 2013 did not increase when they turned 17 in 2014, but in fact declined. Readers should therefore avoid interpreting this analysis as a direct representation of the progression of criminal offending for specific age cohorts, nor as a representation of the criminal behaviour of individuals as they age. Rather, the age-crime distribution provides an approximation of this phenomenon.

Key terminology and definitions

Accused: An accused person is someone against whom enough information exists to lay a charge in connection with a criminal incident/offence.

Age groups: Youth are aged 12 to 17. Young adults are 18 to 24 years of age. Older adults are aged 25 to 89. Accused persons and victims aged 90 years and older are considered of ‘unknown’ age, due to the possible miscoding of age within this age category.

Most serious violation: Individuals accused of crime are categorized by the most serious violation occurring in the police-reported incident in which they are accused. In incidents with multiple accused involving multiple violations, each individual in the incident will be coded with the most serious violation even if this was not the violation(s) that the person was accused of. It is therefore possible that the most serious violation is not the offence for which an individual was accused, but one committed by another accused in the incident. Moreover, in this type of incident, any charges against the accused may be for less serious offences in the incident.

Violent offences: Involve the use or threatened use of violence against a person, including homicide, attempted murder, assault, sexual assault, and robbery. Robbery is considered a violent offence because, unlike other theft offences, it involves the use or threat of violence. See Table 1 for a list of selected offences in this category.

Property offences: Involve unlawful acts to gain property, but do not involve the use or threat of violence against the person. They include offences such as break and enter, theft, and mischief. See Table 1 for a list of selected offences in this category.

“Other” Criminal Code offences: Include crimes such as disturbing the peace and offences against the administration of justice such as failure to comply with an order, failure to appear, or breach of probation.

Drug-related offences: Include offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act such as importation, exportation, trafficking, production and possession of drugs or narcotics. Examples include cannabis/marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs such as crystal meth, PCP, LSD and ecstasy.

Other federal statute violations: Include violations of federal statutes other than the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These include violations of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Survey description

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey

The UCR Survey was developed in 1962 with the cooperation and assistance of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. UCR Survey data reflects reported crime that has been substantiated through police investigation from all separate federal, provincial, and municipal police services in Canada. There are currently two versions of the UCR Survey: aggregate and incident-based microdata.

Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey

The Incident-based UCR2 Survey captures detailed information on individual criminal incidents reported to police, including characteristics of victims, accused persons and incidents. Unless otherwise mentioned, all analysis in this report (including all data in the tables) is based on Incident-based Survey counts. Police services switch over from the Aggregate to the Incident-based Survey as their records management systems become capable of providing this level of detail. Coverage of the UCR2 Survey for 2014 represented 99.6% of the population in Canada.

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Trend Database

The UCR2 Trend Database contains historical data, which permits the analysis of trends from 2009 to 2014 in the characteristics of the incidents, accused and victims, such as weapon use and accused-victim relationships. This database includes respondents accounting for 99.2% of the population of Canada in 2014.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Persons accused of crime for selected offences, by age group of accused, Canada, 2014

Table 2 Persons accused of crime for selected offences, by detailed age group of accused, Canada, 2014

Table 3 Persons accused of crime, by type of crime, by age group of accused, by province and territory, 2014

Table 4 Persons accused of crime for selected offences, by age group of accused, by province and territory, 2014

References

Allen, Mary and Tamy Superle. 2016. “Youth crime in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Allen, Mary and Samuel Perreault. 2015. “Police-reported crime in Canada’s Provincial North and Territories, 2013.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne and Suparna Choudhury. 2006. “Development of the adolescent brain: Implications for executive function and social cognition.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol. 47. p. 3-4.

Boyce, Jillian. 2015. “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Farrington, David, Rolf Loeber and James Howell. 2012. “Young adult offenders: The need for more effective legislative options and justice processing.” Criminology & Public Policy. Vol. 11, no. 4.

Finkelhor, David, Richard Ormrod and Mark Chaffin. 2009. “Juveniles who commit sex offences against minors.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Holman, Barry and Jason Zeidenburg. 2013. “Dangers of detention: The impact of incarcerating youth in detention and other secure facilities.” National Criminal Justice Reference Series. No. 247294. Office of Justice Programs.

Massoglia, Michael and Christopher Uggen. 2010. “Settling down and aging out: Toward an interactionist theory of desistance and the transition to adulthood.” American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 116, no. 2.

Piquero, Alex, Lila Kazemian and David Hawkins. 2012. “Criminal career patterns.” Juvenile Delinquency to Adult Crime: Criminal Careers, Justice Policy and Prevention. Loeber, Rolf and David Farrington (Eds.). New York. Oxford University Press.

Prior, David, Kathryn Farrow, Nathan Hughes, Gill Kelly, Gary Manders, Sue White and Bernadette Wilkinson. 2011. Maturity, Young Adults and Criminal Justice: A Literature Review. University of Birmingham.

Shaienks, Danielle and Tomasz Gluszynski. 2009. “Education and labour market transitions in young adulthood.” Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics Research Papers. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-595-M.

Steinberg, Laurence, Elizabeth Cauffman and Kathryn Monahan. 2015. “Psychosocial maturity and desistance from crime in a sample of serious juvenile offenders.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Sweeten, Gary, Alex Piquero and Laurence Steinberg. 2013. “Age and the explanation of crime revisited.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Vol. 42, no. 6.

Ulmer, Jeffery and Darrell Steffensmeier. 2014. “The age and crime relationship: Social variation, social explanations.” The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality. Beaver, Barnes and Brian Boutwell (Eds.), London. Sage Publications Ltd.

Wilson, Holly and Robert Hoge. 2013. “The effect of youth diversion programs on recidivism: A meta-analytic review.” Criminal Justice and Behaviour. Vol. 40, no. 5.

Notes

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