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Youth crime

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The Daily

Friday, May 16, 2008

The crime rate among young people aged 12 to 17 climbed 3% between 2005 and 2006, according to data reported by Canadian police services. Compared with the previous year, violent crime rates among youth, including homicides, and crime rates for "other" Criminal Code offences such as mischief and disturbing the peace, were up in 2006.

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Even so, property crime rates were down and the overall rate of youth crime was 6% lower than a decade earlier and 25% below the peak in 1991, according to a new Juristat based on police-reported statistics.

In 2006, nearly 180,000 young people were implicated in some violation of the Criminal Code, excluding traffic offences. This translates to a youth crime rate of 6,885 youth accused for every 100,000 young people in this age group.

This study showed that the rate of violent crime among young people increased 12% in 10 years, and 30% since 1991. While property crime rates have declined over the course of the previous decade, these types of offences still accounted for about 4 in 10 youth crimes in 2006.

Drug-related crimes among youth have also climbed dramatically. The rate of drug offences among youth in 2006 was nearly twice what it was 10 years earlier.

Note to readers

This study released today by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) uses police-reported data to look at trends in youth crime.

Data on incidents that come to the attention of the police are captured and forwarded to the CCJS via the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey according to a nationally approved set of common scoring rules, categories and definitions.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) came into force on April 1, 2003, replacing the Young Offenders Act. It requires police to consider the use of extrajudicial (non-court) measures for youths aged 12 to 17 who have committed less serious offences before considering a charge. As a result, it is essential to take into account both youths formally charged or recommended for charging by police and youths "cleared otherwise" in measuring youth criminal activity.

The youth crime rate is calculated based on the number of youth, aged 12 to 17, who have been accused of a criminal offence and formally charged, recommended to the Crown for charging by police or cleared by means other than the laying of a charge per 100,000 youth aged 12 to 17 in the population.

Both the number and rate of young people accused of homicide in 2006 reached their highest point since data were first collected in 1961. However, given the relatively small number of youth committing homicide, rates can fluctuate substantially from year to year. Just five years earlier, the youth homicide rate was at a 30-year low.

The Juristat also examines changes in ways the criminal justice system has responded to young people involved in criminal activities, following the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on April 1, 2003.

Youth accused of violent crimes account for nearly one-quarter of youth involved in crime

Over the previous 10 years, youth accused of violent offences and "other" Criminal Code offences, such as mischief, bail violations and disturbing the peace have constituted an increasing proportion of youth apprehended by police.

Among young people, the violent crime rate increased 12% during the same period, and since 1991, it has risen 30%. In comparison, the overall violent crime rate in Canada declined 4% between 1997 and 2006.

By 2006, youth accused of violent offences accounted for nearly one-quarter of all apprehended youth. Much of this increase in the rate of youth violent crime has been driven by an increase in youth involvement in assaults. Youth accused of assault represented nearly 80% of those apprehended for a violent crime in 2006. Most youth apprehended for assault were accused of common assault, the least serious form of this offence.

Keeping in mind that youth-perpetrated homicides are infrequent and that the rates can vary greatly from year to year, one of the largest increases in youth crime in the past decade has been in homicide rates, which have risen 41% since 1997.

Constituting a very small percentage (0.05%) of youth crime, homicides represented less than 1% of all violent crimes in which a weapon was present in 2006. About 44% of homicides committed by youth involved a knife, while 17% involved a firearm.

Overall, 84 young people, 72 boys and 12 girls, were implicated in 54 homicides in 2006. Just over one-half (52%) of homicides in which the accused was a youth involved multiple perpetrators, compared with only 15% of homicides that involved an adult accused.

Police reported evidence of gang involvement in 22% of homicides in which a youth was accused, versus 9% of homicides where adults were accused.

Youth property crime rates at lowest point in a decade

Contrary to the trend in the violent crime rate, the 2006 rate of youth property crime was about a third of what it had been 10 years earlier, and reached its lowest point in a decade.

Much of the decline in the rate of property crime in 2006 can be explained by a 47% decline in the rate for break-ins, as well as a 33% drop in minor theft rates, the criminal offences for which youth were most commonly apprehended.

Combined, youth accused of these two offences represent more than two-thirds of those implicated in property-related crimes. Motor vehicle theft rates also declined in 2006, and were down 41% from 10 years earlier.

Increase in cocaine and other drugs

Drug-related crimes among young people have climbed dramatically compared with 10 years earlier. In 2006, close to 18,000 youth, or 693 for every 100,000 young people, were accused of drug-related offences, making the rate of drug offences among youth nearly double (+97%) what it was 10 years earlier.

While the vast majority (84%) of youth implicated in drug offences were accused of cannabis-related crimes, the proportion accused of cocaine and other drug offences has more than doubled in 10 years.

About 1 in 10 youth crimes occurred on school property

In 2006, about 1 in 10 youth crimes occurred on school property, with assaults being the most prevalent offences (27%), followed by drug-offences (18%). Weapons were present in about 7% of school crimes with less than 1% of all school crimes involving firearms.

Youth crime rates up in all provinces except Quebec

All provinces, except Quebec, reported an annual increase in their police-reported youth crime rate in 2006. The largest increases occurred in Prince Edward Island (+38%), Newfoundland and Labrador (+22%), Nova Scotia (+17%), and Manitoba (+14%).

Across Canada, youth crime rates varied considerably, with provincial crime rates ranging from a low of 3,765 for every 100,000 youth in Quebec to a high of 19,939 in Saskatchewan.

Between 1991 and 2006, four provinces experienced declines in their youth crime rates: British Columbia (-49%), Alberta (-41%), Ontario (-34%) and Quebec (-25%). Increases were greatest in New Brunswick (+40%) and Nova Scotia (+35%).

Higher proportions of accused youth cleared by means other than charges

Despite a 3% year-over-year increase in the total youth crime rate in 2006, the rate of youth formally charged or recommended for charging dropped 1% from 2005, and it was down 27% from 2002, the year prior to enactment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

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This decline was accompanied by a corresponding rise in the rate of accused youth dealt with through other means. In 2006, the rate of accused youth not charged (or recommended for charging) was up 6% over the previous year and up 32% from 2002.

One of the primary objectives of the YCJA is to divert more youth involved in minor, non-violent crimes from the formal justice system.

Over the previous decade, the proportion of youth apprehended by police but not charged has generally been on the rise. Until 2002, this upward trend was gradual. However, in the period immediately following the introduction of the YCJA, the relative number of cases in which youth were handled through means other than charges climbed sharply.

Over the six-year period from 1997 to 2002, the proportion of young people accused of a Criminal Code offence, but not charged, ranged from 37% to 44%.

However, between 2002 and 2003, this proportion climbed to 55%. Since the YCJA came into force in 2003, the proportion of accused youth cleared otherwise has remained relatively stable, with measures other than formal charges used in almost 60% of youth crimes in 2006.

Since the introduction of the YCJA, the proportion of accused youth cleared by means other than a charge increased for virtually all offences. Nevertheless, police charges continued to be the norm for offences associated with the most severe penalties, while offences carrying less serious penalties remained among those least likely to result in charges.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3302.

The Juristat: "Youth crime in Canada, 2006," Vol. 28, no. 3, (85-002-XIE, free), is now available from our website. From the Publications module, under Free Internet publications, choose Crime and justice, then Juristat. A paper version (85-002-XPE, $11/$100) is also available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Information and Client Services (toll-free 1-800-387-2231; 613-951-9023), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

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