What is the Youth Criminal Justice Act?
The Youth Criminal Justice Act is the legislation that governs how youth offenders are dealt with in the Canadian criminal justice system. Section 3 of the YCJA sets out the guiding principles of the legislation. Like the Criminal Code, its main purpose is to protect society. To accomplish this goal the YCJA aims to hold youth offenders accountable for their actions through measures appropriate to the severity of each criminal offence and the degree to which the offender is responsible for their actions.
The measures the YCJA has available to it are much broader than those available to adult offenders, often not even requiring formal judicial involvement. This is because the YCJA prioritizes the rehabilitation of youth offenders and the prevention of further crime through referring young persons to community programs designed to address the underlying reasons contributing to criminal behaviour.
What is the Maximum Sentence a Youth Offender can Receive?
The maximum sentence varies depending on the type of offence committed and the circumstances of the youth offender. In some cases, the maximum sentence is two years. For more serious offences such as some assaults, sexual assaults, or attempted murder, the maximum increases. The absolute maximum custodial sentence a youth offender can receive is 10 years in connection with a first-degree murder charge. It is worth noting that a youth offender will not serve the entirety of their sentence in custody. Section 42(2) of the YCJA mandates that around half of a sentence must be served within the community under supervision.
If a youth offender is aged 14 or older and commits a serious violent offence such as murder, manslaughter, or aggravated sexual assault, they may be sentenced as an adult. Crown attorneys have an obligation to consider requesting an adult sentence in those circumstances. If a judge agrees, the youth offender will be sentenced under the Code. However, the offender will begin serving their sentence in a youth jail until such times as they turn 18 and are transferred to an adult prison.