Sentencing Principles

In Depth

What is sentencing?
Sentencing is the process by which the judge comes to a decision about what consequences will be appropriate for the youth who has either been found guilty of an offence or has plead guilty.

How does the YCJA help the judge when sentencing?
The YCJA includes a specific purpose and set of principles to guide judges in deciding on a fair and appropriate sentence.

What is the purpose of sentencing?

The purpose of sentencing is to hold a youth accountable through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences to the youth and that promote rehabilitation and reintegration of the youth into society.

What are the principles of sentencing?
The sentence must:

  • not result in a punishment greater than that which would be appropriate for an adult,
  • be similar to that which would be imposed in other regions, and
  • be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the youth in the offence.

All available sanctions other than custody must have been considered.   Within the limits of proportionality the sentence must:

  • be the least restrictive alternative,
  • be the most likely to rehabilitate and reintegrate,
  • promote in the youth a sense of responsibility and an acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community,

Within the limits of proportionality the sentence may:

  • denounce unlawful conduct, and
  • deter the youth from committing offences.

General deterrence is not a sentencing principle under the YCJA.

What factors must the judge take into account when determining a sentence?
The judge must consider the:

  • degree of participation of the youth,
  • harm done to victims,
  • reparations that have been made to the victims,
  • pre-sentence custody,
  • previous findings of guilt of the youth, and
  • aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

What principles apply before a youth can receive a custodial sentence?
The principles include:

  • all reasonable alternatives to custody must have been considered,
  • custody can’t be used as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures, and
  • a pre-sentence report should be considered.

A youth cannot be committed to custody unless:

  • the youth committed a violent offence,
  • the youth failed to comply with non-custodial sentences,
  • the youth has committed an indictable offence (for which an adult is liable to imprisonment for more than two years) and the youth has a history that indicates a pattern of either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt, or
  • in exceptional cases, where a non-custodial sentence would be inconsistent with the purpose and principles as set out in the YCJA.

Where a judge imposes a custodial sentence he/she must give reasons why a non-custodial sentence is not adequate.

Who is custody primarily reserved for?
Custody is to be used primarily for violent and serious repeat offenders.

How much of a custodial sentence is served in the community?
Two thirds of a youth sentence is served in custody and the remainder is served in the community.