Evaluation of Legal Aid Ontario's youth Court Action Planning Pilot Project

1.0 Introduction

The Department of Justice Canada, Youth Justice Branch requires an evaluation of Legal Aid Ontario ’s Youth Court Action Planning Program, a pilot project that was funded under its Youth Justice Renewal Initiative.

The major purpose of the evaluation is to examine the degree to which the pilot project has achieved its stated outcome objectives of:

  • 1) reducing the use of the youth court;
  • 2) reducing the use of pre-trial detention; and
  • 3) reducing the use of custodial sentences.

2.0 Legal Aid Ontario's Youth Court Action Planning Pilot Project

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) established a pilot project designed to provide Duty Counsel and Defence Counsel with Youth Court Workers in several court locations in Toronto including: 311 Jarvis, North York and Etobicoke. Two additional sites were implemented outside of Toronto : Newmarket and Kenora. In September 2004, the North York and Etobicoke sites were combined into a single site.

Pilot Project Objectives:

The program was designed to achieve three major objectives that are consistent with the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), including:

  1. Reduce the use of the youth court, particularly for less serious offences;
  2. Reduce the use of pre-trial detention; and,
  3. Reduce the use of custodial sentences.

In addition, LAO had the following objectives:

  1. To build on LAO’s existing resources by staffing youth courts with experienced, knowledgeable duty counsel who work as a team with community agencies to maximize the potential for out-of-court diversions and alternatives to custody for young persons; and,
  2. To improve the delivery of high quality legal services to young persons by fostering community outreach and the development of relationships between defence counsel, partners in the justice system and community agencies delivering services to young persons.

3.0 Purpose of the Evaluation

The purpose of the evaluation is to examine the degree to which the objectives of the Youth Court Action Planning Project (YCAPP) are being met.

4.0 Evaluation Design

Process and Outcome Evaluation:

The evaluation included both a process and an outcome evaluation. However, the major focus was on examining outcomes achieved in relation to each of the outcome objectives for the pilot project.

The brief process evaluation examined: how the program was implemented; changes made to implementation plans and the reasons for and impacts of the changes; program structures and administration; level of use of the program; types of services provided; and use levels. It should be noted that service use data is required to understand the outcome data in the context of clients served through YCAPP.

The outcome evaluation addressed: outcomes that result from the program; and the degree to which the key program objectives are being met.

Data Collection Approaches:

Data was collected through: program delivery databases specific to each of the components of the YCAPP (i.e., extra-judicial sanctions, bail, and sentence planning); interviews with YCAPP staff and management; interviews with key community stakeholders, interviews with justice system personnel (i.e., judiciary, Crown Attorneys, Duty Counsel, defence bar), interviews with program clients, and interview with parents of program clients.

5.0 Limitations of the Evaluation

Several limitations of the evaluation were identified, including:

Interview participation rates for parents and clients:

The interview participation rates for parents and clients were quite low. While their participation in interviews does not affect analysis of program data to examine whether or not the program is effective in achieving its goals, it does limit the extent to which parent and client qualitative input about the impacts of the program can be incorporated into the results. Often, client and parent input can provide information that ensures a more comprehensive understanding of why the results are achieved. The extent to which interview materials for parents and clients in this study can aid in understanding the results is therefore limited.

Comparison Data:

Given that we were not able to obtain data directly from the Ministry of the Attorney General, the data we were able to collect from CCJS for Ontario was in a format that, for many variables, was not compatible with the program data collected. Hence, the usefulness of the CCJS data for comparative purposes was limited.

Outcomes:

The identified outcomes for YCAPP are consistent with the mid-term outcomes identified for the YCJA. However, the program outcomes do not address longer-term outcomes of effectiveness such as reduction of recidivism and lifestyle changes adopted by the youth (and parents) as a result of involvement in the program. The outcomes are focussed strictly on more administrative outcomes (reduction in use of courts, reduction in pre-trial detention, and reduction in use of custodial sentences). A relationship between reducing these factors and impacts on the youth in terms of criminal behaviour, lifestyle, and the likelihood of future charges, is assumed in the outcomes identified for the YCJA. However, this study was not designed to examine these assumed relationships and cannot be assumed to provide evidence to support that the assumed longer-term outcomes will be achieved. An examination those relationships would require study of the clients over a much longer period of time and collection of additional data dealing with personal, lifestyle, and criminal record changes.

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