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The Youth Criminal Justice Act

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Youth crime is a growing epidemic that affects most teenagers at one point in their life. There is no question in society to whether youths are committing crimes. It has been shown that since 1986 to 1998 violent crime committed by youth jumped approximately 120% (CITE). The most controversial debate in Canadian history would have to be about the Young Offenders Act (YOA). In 1982, Parliament passed the Young Offenders Act (YOA). Effective since 1984, the Young Offenders Act replaced the most recent version of the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA). The Young Offenders Act’s purpose was to shift from a social welfare approach to making youth take responsibility for their actions. It also addressed concerns that the paternalistic treatment of children under the JDA did not conform to Canadian human rights legislation (Mapleleaf). It remained a heated debate until the new legislation passed the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Some thought a complete overhaul was needed, others thought minor changes would suffice, and still others felt that the Young Offenders Act was best left alone.

In February 2002, the House of Commons passed the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). The Act came into effect in April 2003, replacing the Young Offenders Act. The new legislation attempts to balance the legalistic framework of the Young Offenders Act and the social needs approach underlying the Juvenile Delinquents Act. When one reads into the YCJA, they will find that it applies to children between the ages of twelve to seventeen (Justice Canada, 2003). Some would argue that this age is either too high or too low to make children criminally responsible for their actions. Even dating back to the 1800’s, children were treated a lot like adults. This was often done around the age of twelve. Whenever children disobeyed their parents or the law they were often punished on an adult level.

This applies back to present day, where the YCJA applies to children aged twelve to seventeen. To add onto the argument, modern research has proven that children under the age of 18 have not fully established their maturity in the brain yet, and should not be held responsible for their crimes. A lot of the YCJA is since it is providing a “second chance” for children, as they do not fully understand the consequences and procedures that they must go through after committing a crime. This research has also shown that people do not fully develop their brain until the age of nineteen to twenty years old, which is also when the YCJA does not apply to children anymore. The age that the YCJA applies to is appropriate and provides youth a second chance to understand what they did wrong.

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