Students examine the purposes of the Youth Criminal Justice Act by deciding whether or not the needs of Canadian youth and society in general are well served by treating youth differently from adults.
Set the context
Invite students to suggest a variety of ways that young people—from a range of ages, both genders and all family backgrounds—occasionally break the law. Cluster the listed items into four categories: violence, property, driving, substance abuse.
Work with case studies
Organize students into small groups. Assign each group one of the provided case studies or another case study that reflects a current issue in your community. Ask groups to read the case study and identify the victim of the crime, the nature of the crime and the severity of the crime. Invite students to suggest a reasonable consequence for the crime committed.
Invite students to work with their groups to develop criteria that they can use to guide their decisions as to what would constitute a fair and reasonable consequence. Remind students that the consequence needs to balance the interests of:
- the youth who committed the crime; e.g., their freedom, well-being, long-term prospects
- the victim of the crime; e.g., security, well-being, justice
- society at large; e.g., security, well-being, justice
- criminal justice system; e.g., ability to protect society and youth, self protection, efficacy, cost.
Some possible criteria students may suggest could include:
- is commensurate with the severity of the crime
- considers the age of the accused
- allows for rehabilitation
- protects interests of all stakeholders.
Case Study #1
Late one summer, John Smith attended a party at a friend's house. At the time, John Smith was 16 years old and was looking forward to returning to high school the next month. During the party, at which both drugs and alcohol were consumed, an argument broke out between some friends of the accused and some uninvited young men who had shown up around 11:30 p.m. When the accused attempted to intervene, he was confronted by one of the uninvited young men. In retaliation, Smith, the accused, punched the young man causing him to fall and strike his head. Smith was charged with assault causing bodily harm.
Case Study #2
While at the mall with a group of friends, Jane saw a sweater that she had seen in a magazine. It would be perfect for her to wear at an upcoming family event. The problem was, the sweater cost considerably more than Jane could afford. She decided to try on the sweater anyway. It was a perfect fit! Her friends all told her how amazing the sweater looked on her and that she just had to have it. When Jane stated sadly that she could not afford it, some of her friends offered to distract the sales people in the store so that she could slip the sweater into her bag. After much thought, Jane agreed. As she headed out of the store, the alarm sounded. She had been caught.
Case Study #3
When A. J. got his driver's licence, he could not wait to take his friends out for a drive. On a Saturday evening in the spring, A. J. and a group of his friends piled into the car and headed out from Lacombe toward Leduc. When they pulled up to a stoplight, a sporty car filled with another group of teens pulled up alongside. As they waited for the lights, the two cars began to rev their engines. When the light turned green the sporty car accelerated quickly. Not to be outdone, A. J. stepped on the gas, squealing tires, and his car followed in hot pursuit. The two cars sped down the road reaching speeds well above the speed limit. Suddenly, another car turned the corner into the path of the speeding cars. Swerving to avoid a collision, A.J.'s car hit the curb, flew across a lawn and smashed into the front of a house. Luckily, A. J. and his friends received only minor injuries but the front end of the car was destroyed and the house suffered several thousands of dollars in damage.
For additional case studies, see References.
Determine criteria for choosing consequences
Ask students to work with a partner to sort their responses to the case studies into categories according to the impact of the proposed consequence. Ask students to consider who would benefit the most or who would be punished the most.
Ask them to think about whose interests are dominant, such as:
- youth who committed the crime (freedom, well-being, long term prospects)
- victim of the crime (security, well-being, justice)
- society at large (security, well-being, justice)
- criminal justice system (ability to protect society and youth, self protection, efficacy, cost).
Ask students which of the consequences would best balance the interests of all parties involved.
Gather background knowledge on Youth Criminal Justice Act
Provide students with a briefing sheet or reference material reading on the basics of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Ask students to use different colours to highlight the parts of the act that serve the interests of four groups—society at large, the criminal justice system, the victim and the accused.
Hold a Four Corners discussion
Ask students to debate the issue by considering whether or not the interests of all parties are best served by this legislation. Students should focus on this question: Do we need the Youth Criminal Justice Act?
Invite students to go to one of four corners of the room labelled with these signs: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Ask them to do a Think–Pair–Share activity to reflect on why they chose the corner they chose.
For more information on this type of debate, see Four Corners Discussion (Support Material).
Remind students that effective participation in the discussion depends on the following actions:
- base their conclusions on relevant and accurate information
- support their opinions with sound, clearly articulated arguments
- remain open-minded and prepared to adjust their positions in the face of convincing arguments or new evidence.
After the Think–Pair–Share activity, hold the preliminary discussion for about 10 to 15 minutes. Ask students in the Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree corners to present their views. Next, invite students in the Agree and Disagree corners to share their thoughts, including why they are not more strongly in agreement or disagreement. Encourage students to change corners if they hear convincing arguments.
After students in each of the corners have presented arguments, ask all students to move to the centre of the room where they may discuss the issue with someone who was not in their corner.
Allow three to five minutes for paired discussion and then ask students to return to the corners that now best fit their views.
Finally, start the discussion again and allow all students to participate.
Self-assessment of student participation
Ask students to assess their performance in the discussion in light of the criteria listed above.
To structure this activity, you may want to use the self-assessment rubric found in U-shaped Discussion (Support Material).