Crown Cautioning Pilot Project

Overview

The purpose of the Crown Cautioning Pilot Project was to divert youth charged with possession of marijuana or cannabis from the courts. Its goal was also to ensure that the youths acknowledge responsibility and are held accountable for the offence and, as a form of reparation, are involved in community service. While evaluation of certain project areas has yet to be undertaken, it is clear from the available data that the Crown Cautioning Project was successful.

Context

The Department of Justice’s Youth Justice Policy Section carried out an evaluation of several Operation Springboard pilot projects, which assessed the impacts these projects had on helping young offenders avoid incarceration. This impact was determined by looking at the extent to which the pilot projects reduced the use of court process and custody, as well as identification of any evidence that the youth involved in the project would have otherwise gone through the formal court process or been sentenced to custody.

Participation

From April 26, 2000 to June 2002, a total of 465 youth were involved in the Crown Cautioning Pilot Project; approximately 89 % of the clients were male and 11 % were female. The average age of youths involved in the pilot project was 16 years; the youngest person involved in the project was 12 years of age, while the oldest offender was 19.

Participating youth were required to complete activities including community service, apology letters, counseling and writing essays about substance use and abuse. Most youth were expected to complete community service for their sanction. 

Operation

The pilot project program delivery consisted of three major elements: a network of community-based agencies willing to take placements of diverted youth to complete community hours; a network within the justice system that would ensure that the program and referral process was well-coordinated and efficient; and an overall strategy to ensure that the services offered by these networks actually work for the young offenders.

When a youth was charged with a federal offence, the Federal Crown Attorney screened the case for eligibility as only those charged with possession of marijuana or cannabis were eligible for the program. Once the youth was admitted to the program, staff explained to them the nature of the program, including the implications for taking voluntary responsibility for the offence they have committed and the need to complete community service or some other activity in order to have the charges withdrawn.

If the youth opted to be involved in the program, the staff proceeded to have the youth sign consent forms.  They interviewed the youth, assessing risks and needs with respect to areas relevant for criminogenic tendencies:  prior offences; other charges pending; education; employment; medical, social and family issues; interests; and leisure activities. Based on the assessment results, staff arranged a placement for the youth with a community organization, attempting to match the placement with the youth’s interests and within a reasonable distance from the youth’s residence within the City of Toronto. 

Once the youth determined that s/he will enter the program, the case was brought before the court and the judge is informed of the youth’s choice.  At that time, a remand date was set, usually two to three months after the first court date, which gave the youth enough time to complete the program.

Evaluation

The pilot project diverted 465 eligible youth charged with possession of marijuana from the courts, which can be considered a success. Although there is no reliable quantitative data on which to determine the level of cost-savings resulting from diversion, there is data to suggest that cost-savings were being accrued across the system through a decrease in the number of appearances and the benefit accrued to the agencies that accepted placements.

The project was also very successful in ensuring that youth acknowledge, in the form of a written agreement, responsibility and are held accountable for their offences. In fact, the completion rate for sanctions was 94.3 %, a figure that remained consistent over the period of program operations, with the majority of youth completing the sanctions in approximately two months.

The last objective – to involve non-traditional community-based agencies – was also met through making a deliberate outreach efforts to involve agencies such as Parks and Recreation Departments, day care centers, youth centers, job skills programs, social service agencies and local churches.

Recommendations

While the program developed a well-established and credible presence within the justice system, a means by which to assess both the longer-term outcomes and a mechanism for review of cases judged as ineligible needed to be established. Also needed was a mechanism to determine the level of satisfaction and short-term impacts of program involvement for both youth and community agencies.

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