Pre-Trial Detention Under the Young Offenders Act: A Study of Urban Courts

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

Young persons suspected of offences are detained to ensure their appearance at court and to protect the public. In the past, under both the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA)and the Young Offenders Act (YOA), youth advocates suggested that pre-trial detention was used inconsistently and inappropriately. In particular, young persons were believed to be detained for child welfare reasons (e.g., they were seen as being in need of protection by the system, more than for legal reasons). The lack of uniformity in decision-making was also of concern. Finally, critics argued that detention disadvantaged young persons in terms of their relationship to their family and to the community at large and in their subsequent legal proceedings.

1.1 This Report

This report presents data on pre-trial detention and bail proceedings in five large urban areas in fiscal year 1999/2000. The objectives of this research are:

  • to describe, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, the pre-trial detention experiences of young persons who come into conflict with the law;
  • to determine what factors affect pre-trial detention at arrest and detention by the court; and,
  • to find out if pre-trial detention affects the plea and the sentences imposed by the youth court.

1.2 Method

The data were collected in 2002 and 2003 for research entitled "Young Offender Case Processing in Five Urban Communities", also known as the "Baseline Study". This research randomly sampled 1,843 young offender cases from the court files of Halifax-Dartmouth (341), downtown Toronto (233), Scarborough (165), Winnipeg (369), Edmonton (416), downtown Vancouver (167) and Surrey (152). The sample had first appearance dates between April 1, 1999 and March 31, 2000. This time frame was selected because it was assumed that most court and correctional processing would be completed by the time of data collection. In addition to the court files, the sample was followed up in Crown files and, where possible, in probation and custody files as well.

A special sub-study on pre-trial detention was undertaken in Halifax-Dartmouth and Toronto specifically for this research. Its purpose was to collect data on multiple detention stays - that is stays that occurred after the youth entered the study sample.

In-person and telephone interviews were conducted with Crown attorneys and defence counsel in several courts. Additional interviews were done with police in Halifax-Dartmouth and Toronto.

The emphasis in this report is on the analysis of quantitative data. The data were analysed using a standard social science software package. Multivariate analysis - linear regression and logistic regression - was employed to assess the effects of the demographic, social and legal characteristics of the sample on major detention decisions.

1.3 Report Organization

Primarily descriptive, Section 2 includes discussions of the pre-trial detention process including the police input to the courts, the main features of judicial interim release hearings such as their timing and outcome, police recommendations to the Crown attorney, the conditions of release, and charges arising from bail violations. Sections 3 and 4 present the by-site bivariate and multivariate analyses of police and court detention (respectively). Section 5 contains data on the effects of pre-trial detention on guilty pleas and on sentencing. In Section 6, the limited data available on multiple detention stays are described. Section 7 summarizes the main findings of the report. The Appendix contains the supporting tables for the multivariate analyses.

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