Research Summary

Supporting Positive Outcomes for Youth Involved with the Law in Ontario


Supporting Positive Outcomes for Youth Involved with the Law in Ontario

6 years ago 6 years ago Published by Leave your thoughts

YouthREX Research Summaries ask Just Six Questions of research publications on key youth issues. These summaries get at what the youth sector needs to know in two pages or less!

1. What was this research about?
This report reviews literature that helps us to understand how to better support positive outcomes for youth involved with the law. The report is meant to serve as a resource and guide for evidence-based practice for programs working with this population. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the legal statute that governs youth justice programs and systems in Canada. Its emphasis on using extrajudicial measures to divert first-time or less serious and non-violent offenders away from the criminal justice system has successfully changed the youth justice system from being more punitive to being more rehabilitative and has reduced the incarcerated rate of youth in general. Nonetheless, the YCJA is only regarded as a ‘qualified success’ because the incarcerated rated of Indigenous youth has not decreased, and there have been unintended adverse impacts on youth from racialized groups as a result of the new legislation. This report reviews the outcomes of this new legislation, identifies ‘what works’ from the literature, and provides evidence-based guidelines and principles for practitioners and program developers to support positive outcomes for youth involved with the law.

2. Where did the research take place?
This research reviewed Canadian and international research and grey literature related to supporting positive outcomes for youth involved with the law.

3. Who is this research about?
This research is about youth, age 12 -25, with a priority given to racialized and Indigenous youth involved with the law.

“While Ontario is investing in a broad range of prevention and rehabilitation programs, little is known about best program models and practices for supporting Indigenous and racialized youth. There is a need to document and evaluate programs that are responsive to the needs and strengths of Indigenous and racialized young people.”

4. How was this research done?
This is a selective literature review. It is extensive but not systematic. It draws on an array of sources including academic and peer-reviewed papers and books and grey literature (e.g., policy documents, government reports, conference papers, and unpublished dissertations). Specific databases used were: Academic Search Premier, Criminal Justice Abstracts, PsychINFO, MEDLINE, Psychology and Behavioural Science Collections and Current Contents, Sociological Abstracts, Scope, Social Work Abstract, and Social Sciences Abstracts. In addition, searches were made of unpublished materials (Dissertation Abstracts International, ERIC, ProQuest).

5. What are the key findings?
There is compelling evidence demonstrated through meta-analysis of research literature that punitive sanctions such as jail, which is designed to shock youth into law-abiding behaviour, dos not reduce recidivism. Instead, the review identified the following practices that do reduce youth recidivism:

  • Targeted and responsive programs.
    Programs that adhere to the principles of risk, need, and responsivity are more effective.
  • Diversion programs.
    Diversion programs that accept low-risk youth demonstrated significantly greater effectiveness when accepting them pre-charge than post-charge.
  • Multi- and family-focused interventions (i.e. counselling programs that offer individual, group, and family sessions).
    These programs were the most effective response to youth delinquency.
  • Treatment length and dosage.
    Programs should be limited to six-months as both high-risk and low-risk offenders were successful when the program was shorter than six months.
  • Treatment setting.
    The findings on treatment setting (community-based intervention vs. treatment in institutional setting) are inconclusive. It appears that treatment forms are more important than the treatment setting.
  • Program integrity.
    Those programs that follow program integrity principles (i.e., training, staff supervision, produced manuals, and measured program compliance) generated more positive outcomes compared to programs that did not report efforts to ensure program integrity.

6. Why does it matter for youth work?
It is important that frontline youth justice professionals (e.g., police and crown prosecutors) have clear guidelines about the use of extra-judicial measures. All stakeholders working with youth involved with the law should develop a process for coordinating and integrating diversion programs. Program designs should be built on a theoretical framework that identifies clear, attainable, and measurable program goals for implementation and evaluation purposes.

All programs working with youth involved with the law should focus on family rather than on the youth individually. Youth need a sense of empowerment and ownership of the program. Staff are role models and should have the required level of cultural competency to implement the program. It is important to ensure program integrity and fidelity by developing a clear and accessible manual that clarifies program objectives and implementation processes. Program evaluation is important because it enables continuous improvement that can help programs to better meet the needs of youth. Moreover, there is a lack of program evaluation data on youth justice programs making it difficult to assess what is and is not working.

Kwok, S. M., Houwer, R., HeavyShield, H., Weatherstone, R., & Tam, D. (2017). Supporting Positive Outcomes for Youth Involved with the Law in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Youth Research & Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX).

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