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Sentencing Juvenile Offenders: Comparing Public Preferences and Judicial Practice

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 13 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 46-64
Jennifer Tufts; Julian V. Roberts
Date Published
March 2002
19 pages
This article reports on a representative Canadian national survey of the general public that permitted comparisons of the public's sentencing preferences with the actual sentencing practices of youth courts.
The study also explored the effect of three legally relevant factors (offender age, offense characteristics, and offender criminal history) on public sentencing preferences; further, it explored the relationship between important respondent variables (such as victimization history) and attitudes toward the use of incarceration for young offenders. Data were obtained from Statistics Canada's 1999 General Social Survey, which is an annual survey that monitors changes in Canadian society and provides information on specific policy issues of current or emerging interest. A total of 25,876 people were interviewed for the 1999 survey. Respondents were asked to sentence offenders described in vignettes. The offense of conviction was either burglary or assault. The findings showed an agreement between the general public and the practice of the courts regarding the use of incarceration for young offenders. For the first-offender burglary scenario, the incarceration rate from the public was only 4 percent higher than the actual imprisonment rate for youth courts; similarly, for the recidivist burglar, the incarceration rate for the public was not significantly different from that of the youth courts (55 percent compared with 50 percent). Only for the case of assault by a recidivist offender was the public significantly harsher, with a rate of 54 percent compared to 32 percent for the courts. Overall, the public incarceration rate in the four scenarios was 37 percent, compared with 28 percent for the youth court. Consistent with the findings of previous research, respondents who had been criminally victimized were no more punitive than respondents who did not report having been victimized. 2 tables, 2 figures, and 30 references