Psychology and the Law 4/15/2012
Chapter 5 – Developmental Issues : Juvenile Offending
Children under the age of 12 are not charged even when they commit violent acts such as murder.
Professionals such as social workers, psychologists and even police officers may intervene but the
goal is to provide appropriate intervention or treatment so that these acts do not continue.
• Once a child is 12 they are assumed to be in sufficient control of their behavior such that acts
committed against the Canadian Criminal code will be pursued by the justice system.
o Children 12-18 have outlined provisions for younger aged “offenders” in the Youth
Criminal Justice Act, which provides direction on how youth committing Criminal
Code offences should be “processed”.
The History of Juvenile Justice in Canada:
In 1908, Canada enacted the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) to recognize the special circumstances
inherent with juvenile offenders. This legislation applied to individuals between the ages of 7 and 16.
These juveniles were termed delinquents rather than offenders.
• The informality of youth court denying youth their rights, such as the right to legal
representation and the right to appeal;
• That judges could impose open-ended sentences; and the broad definition of delinquency that
included acts that were not illegal for adults.
In 1984, the young Offenders Act (YOA) replaced the JDA
• Juvenile offenders were recognized as cognitively different as adults and consequently their
level of accountability and the sanctions for their behavior should be more commensurate with
their developmental stage.
• With the YOA came an increase in the minimum age at which an individual could be charged
with a criminal offence
o From 7-12 years of age – Child and Family Services would intervene
*** Youth court judgments with the possibility of a transfer to adult court, continued however, one
had to be 14 years of age.
• The YOA also allowed cases to be diverted
o Diversion is a decision not to prosecute a young offender but rather have them undergo
an educational or community service program.
A younger offender would have to plead guilt for diversion to be possible.
Other diversions available include
1. absolute discharge – young offender received no sentence other than a
2. a fine compensation for loss or damaged property
3. restitution to the victim
4. a prohibition order ( no weapons)
5. community service
6. probation Psychology and the Law 4/15/2012
7. custody ( could be open – i.e. : group home or childcare facility or
secure – i.e.: prison facility)
1986: Bill C-106 Section 16 was introduced to combat the problem of juveniles pleading guilty to
avoid transfer to adult court.
1995: Bill C-37 changed section 16 once again.
• Charged with murder, manslaughter, or aggravated sexual assault, 16 and 17 year olds would
automatically be tried in adult court.
• Youth sentencing changed: for first-degree murder, a ten year maximum with a six year
maximum to be served incarcerated was available.
April 1, 2003: Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) replace the YOA
• Objectives : - To prevent youth crime
- To provide meaningful consequences and encourage responsibility of behavior
- To improve rehabilitation and reintegration of youth into the community
When coming in contact with anti-social youth, police must:
1. Give a warning or making a referral for treatment ( known as extrajudicial measures)
Once a juvenile is charge, they can no longer be transferred to adult court under the YCJA.
- Rather if a juvenile defendant is found guilty the judge can impose an adult sentence as long
as the defendant is at least 14 years of age.
Trajectories of Juvenile Offenders:
Child-onset Juvenile offenders:
- Behavioral problems start very early in childhood
- Often have histories that include behavioral problems dating back to daycare and preschool
- As babies, they were difficult to soothe with problematic temperaments and were aggressive
with other children.
- May also have other challenges such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning
disabilities and academic difficulties.
- Less frequent in occurrence, affecting 3 to 5 percent of the general population.
Adolescent-onset Juvenile Offenders:
- Begin to show behavioral problems in their teen years.
- These youth may engage in antisocial acts such as truancy, theft and vandalism
Theories to Explain Juvenile Offending
1. Biological Theories
- Children who have an antisocial biological father are more likely to
engage in antisocial behavior even when raised apart from him.
- Antisocial youth have slower heart rates suggesting a higher threshold for
excitability and emotionality.
- Antisocial youth have less frontal lobe inhibition than youth who do not
engage in antisocial behaviorPsychology and the Law 4/15/2012
2. Cognitive Theories:
- Model of conduct-disordered behavior: focuses on the thought processes
that occur in social interactions.
- The model begins with thought processes which start when individuals
pay attention to and interpret social and emotional cues in the
- The next step is to consider alternate responses to the cues
- Finally, a response is chosen and performed.
Reactive aggression: described as an emotionally aggressive response to a perceived threat of
- Reactive youth are likely to demonstrate deficiencies early in the cognitive process such as
focusing on only a few social cues and misattributing hostile intent to ambiguous situations.
- Earlier onset of problems.
Proactive aggression: aggression directed at achieving a goal or receiving positive reinforcers.
- Youth are likely to have deficiencies in generating alternate responses and often choose an
3. Social Theories:
- Social learning theory suggests that children learn their behavior from
- Family process model: aggressive behavior among youth develops from
imitation of parents and reinforcement.
- Patterson’s model includes the role of inadequate parent supervision and