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Court Careers of a Canadian Birth Cohort

By Peter J. Carrington (University of Waterloo), Anthony Matarazzo (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and University of Waterloo) and Paul deSouza (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics)

This is the first quasi-national Canadian study of the criminal careers of a birth cohort. It uses linked data from the Youth Court Survey and Adult Criminal Court Survey to describe the court careers up to the 22nd birthday of Canadians born in 1979/80. The study includes six provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta — accounting for approximately 78% of the population of Canada.

Eighteen per 100 members of the cohort were referred to court for a criminal offence allegedly committed before their 22nd birthday. Thirteen were found guilty of at least one offence, and ten received a sentence which put them under the supervision of correctional or probation authorities. The peak age of referral to court is 18 years. On average, between the ages of 12 and 21 inclusive, alleged offenders were referred to court in connection with 3.1 criminal incidents — or 2.4, if administrative offences are excluded. Just over half of alleged offenders had only one incident in their court career. Sixteen percent of alleged offenders were classified as chronic offenders, who were responsible for 58% of all alleged criminal incidents.

Individuals whose contact with the court system begins later in adolescence tend to be involved in fewer criminal incidents. The lengths of court careers vary widely, but the mean and median lengths are 20 months and 13 months respectively. Age-specific annual rates of alleged offending are similar for accused males and females, and peak at 15 years of age. There is no particular tendency to escalation, de-escalation, or stability in the seriousness of repeated court referrals: all three patterns occur frequently. Thirty-seven percent of individuals with multiple court referrals have adolescent-limited careers (i.e. no incidents after the 18th birthday which resulted in court referral), 43% have adult-onset careers (no incidents before the 18th birthday), and 20% are persistent offenders (with incidents both as youths and as adults). The latter have many more criminal incidents in their careers and are much more likely than the others to have been referred to court for an offence against the person; however, the incidents in their careers are not more serious on average, and they are not more likely to have had an early onset of contact with the court system.

The file from which these results were derived could support much more detailed analyses of the topics which are touched on by this report, as well as other topics which have not been addressed, such as the timing of incidents during the career, the processing of cases through the courts, the sequence of case outcomes and sentences, and the interactions between sentencing and future offending, including the impact on careers of incapacitation. As additional years of court data become available, future research should follow court careers past the 22nd birthday. This will result in a more complete picture of the court careers of chronic, persistent offenders, as well as a more thorough investigation of the court careers of “adult-onset” offenders, who had no contact with the court system during adolescence.

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Date modified: 2005-12-09 Important Notices
Online catalogue 85-561-MWE Online catalogue - Court Careers of a Canadian Birth Cohort Main page Background Findings Tables and figures Methodology Bibliography More information PDF version Previous issues of the Crime and Justice Research Paper Series