Juvenile delinquency, also known as juvenile offending, or youth crime, is participation in illegal behavior by minors . Most legal systems prescribe specific procedures for dealing with juveniles, such as juvenile detention centers, and courts. A juvenile delinquent is a person who is typically under the age of 18 and commits an act that otherwise would have been charged as a crime if they were an adult. Depending on the type and severity of the offense committed, it is possible for persons under 18 to be charged and tried as adults. In recent years a higher proportion of youth have experienced arrests by their early 20s than in the past, although some scholars have concluded this may reflect more aggressive criminal justice and zero-tolerance policies rather than changes in youth behavior. Between 60–80% percent of adolescents, and pre-adolescents engage in some form of juvenile offense. These can range from status offenses, to property crimes and violent crimes.
If a young person’s case is not resolved through extrajudicial measures, it will be dealt with in youth court. When a young person is charged with an offence, he or she may remain in the community or, if the court deems it necessary, be kept in custody until the trial takes place. Being held in custody while awaiting trial is known as pre-trial detention.
The YCJA recognizes that young people coming out of custody will need assistance in successfully reintegrating into the community. Therefore, every period of custody is followed by a period of supervision and support in the community as part of the young person’s sentence. A youth worker helps the young person plan for his or her reintegration into the community and provides support and supervision to help ensure a successful transition back into society.
While youth court proceedings take place in open court, meaning that members of the public can attend and observe the proceedings, the YCJA does contain specific provisions regarding the publication of a youth’s identity. As a general rule, no identifying information that would reveal that a young person has been dealt with by the youth justice system can be published. The rationale for this general rule is that publication can undermine efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate young people back into the community.
However, there are exceptions to the rule against publication. For example, when a youth court imposes an adult sentence, the publication ban is automatically lifted. The YCJA also allows for publication when a youth sentence is imposed for a violent offence, and the judge finds that lifting the publication ban is necessary to protect the public against a significant risk that the young person will commit another violent offence.
The YCJA recognizes the importance of involving families, victims and communities in the youth criminal justice system. One way in which this is being done is through conferences. Under the YCJA, a conference is defined as a group of people brought together to give advice to decision-makers such as police officers and judges. A conference can give advice on appropriate extrajudicial measures, conditions for release from pre-trial detention, appropriate sentences, and plans for reintegrating a young person back into the community after serving time in custody.
The YCJA is the legal foundation upon which Canada’s youth criminal justice system is built. It recognizes that in order to protect society, youth who commit crimes must be held accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. The measures taken should also aim to promote the rehabilitation of youth, help them successfully reintegrate back into society and prevent them from committing further offences.