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Much ado about (almost) nothing: the youth criminal justice act: paradigms & paradoxes within Canadian youth justice philosophy Nielsen, Lene Spang Dyhrberg

Abstract

The subject of this thesis is Canadian youth justice philosophy, and the paradigms and paradoxes within the youth criminal justice system. It focuses on the historical, socioeconomic, political and intellectual elements of the changes in Canadian youth justice philosophy. I will explore the reason behind the federal government's recent political initiative, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and look into the question of whether the government's youth justice strategy will accomplish its objectives and make significant changes to the existing legislation and justice system in the context of young offenders. The purpose of the thesis is to delineate the development of Canadian youth justice philosophy and outline the changes in the developing process from a historical, political and intellectual perspective in order to understand the current regulatory framework. I describe and analyze the changes in youth justice philosophy using Thomas Kuhn's model of change in order to determine whether a paradigm shift has happened with the progression from the Juvenile Delinquents Act, to the Young Offenders Act to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I go on to describe the principles and theories behind retributive and restorative justice philosophy, as it seems restorative principles might become more influential than they have been hitherto. I explore existing alternative measures within the restorative framework in Canada, such as mediation, family group conferences and circle sentencing. I argue that the federal government's intention to implement the new Act could be a step from retributive to restorative justice because of the government's promise of additional funding for restorative programs. My thesis is that the intended renewal of the youth justice system in Canada is a political response to a polarized public debate about youth crime. I argue that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is not a complete transformation of youth justice philosophy. My conclusion is that historical, political, intellectual and scientific changes in youth justice philosophy might have occurred in 1984 with the Young Offenders Act, but that the Youth Criminal Justice Act does not constitute a further advance.

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