Good morning, Chair Fast and honourable members of the committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. My name is Tim Croisdale. I'm an assistant professor at California State University in Sacramento. I'm also adjunct professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. Also, I'm senior scholar and international visiting professor at the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies, also at Simon Fraser University.
I am here today to speak about research related to Bill C-4, which seeks to address concerns about dangerous violent young offenders and young offenders with patterns of repeated offending. My statement will provide an overview of the research on persistent offending and report findings of research on persistent offending and violent offending I have been involved with as they relate to Bill C-4.
Persistent offending is commonly defined as repeated offending. It is not, however, simply more offending, but should also be considered and examined as an individual's failure to stop offending. Persistence also means, then, failed responses to offending that may lead to violent offending.
Persistent offender research is conducted within the topic of criminal career research and includes the areas of onset, frequency, seriousness, and duration.
Onset refers to the age at one's first offence, often measured by arrest. Ages for youth onset are the teen years, from 13 to 17 years. Early onset occurs at 13 or 14 years of age.
Research findings revealed two findings regarding onset. First, the earlier the onset age, the more frequently an offender will offend. Second, the earlier the onset age, the longer the offender will continue to offend. Early onset, therefore, is a good predictor of future offending. Research indicates that persistent offenders begin offending early in life. That is, they have early onset.
Frequency of offending refers to the amount of offending by individuals and is most commonly measured by number of arrests. For youth, as age increases through the teen years, so does the amount of offending, producing an increasing trajectory from the early onset ages through the late teen years.
Examination of the number of arrests of youth, by age, reveals an age-crime curve that illustrates that the number of arrests are initially lower in the early teens, increasing through the mid-teen years, peaking at ages 18 and 19 years, before beginning a decline in the early twenties and continually declining throughout the twenties. Persistent offenders not only begin offending early in life, they continue offending at higher rates through their teens and twenties than other offenders.
While persistent offenders are numerically a smaller group than other offenders, they account for a disproportionately large amount of crime. An analysis I conducted on arrest data in British Columbia found that between July 2001 and June 2006, a small group, 9.2% of all offenders, accounted for 36.2%, or over one-third, of all arrest charges in the province.
When considering persistent offenders, we should not only refer to seriousness as the severity of the crime, but also we should discuss seriousness in terms of the total amount of harm caused by numerous repeated offences.
While most often engaging in non-violent offences, persistent offenders are a drain on criminal justice system resources. When one considers the vast amount of resources that are necessary to respond to persistent offending, even persistent nuisance offending increases in seriousness.
Persistent youth offenders do not specialize in one type of crime over time. However, for persistent offenders, offending leads to more offending and in some cases it leads to violent offending.
Desistance is considered to be the end of the criminal career, the cessation of offending. Career length for offending is often calculated by the duration between onset and last arrest. True desistance, however, cannot be determined until an offender can no longer engage in crime. Persistent offenders not only begin offending earlier and offend more often than other offenders, they also offend for a longer duration. That is, they have longer criminal careers.
My own research has focused on persistent offenders, the existence of persistent co-offending, and patterns of persistent co-offending networks.
Two studies I have conducted in California analyzed long-term offending. Examining offending over long terms, 14 years in one study and 18 years in the other, greatly increases significance of findings as short-term variations in offending patterns are reduced. Both studies also followed large populations of youth offenders, further increasing the significance of the findings.
Research on persistent offenders and co-offending networks I have conducted in British Columbia examined offending over four years and included an examination of over nine million records of data. Some important findings from my research on persistent offending are as follows: youth had an average of 10 arrest charges before admission to a correctional institution; the age-crime peak of persistence is 16 to 17 years, two years earlier than crime normally peaks for youth offenders in general; the average age at first incarceration into a youth correctional institution was 17; a small percentage of youth persistent offenders is responsible for a larger percentage of crime; persistent offenders have been found to co-offend in co-offending criminal networks; persistent offenders with 10 or more arrest charges are less likely to actually be charged than offenders with single arrest charges.
Why are persistent offenders different from other offenders?
Most offenders cease offending after their first encounter with the criminal justice system. With additional encounters, more offenders cease to re-offend. In fact, most first-time juvenile arrestees are not arrested again, and the majority of those arrested twice are not arrested a third time.
Persistent offenders are resilient, in that they resist informal interventions and formal sanctions at all levels, even as they increase in severity. Persistence is fundamentally a measure of an offender's resistance to intervention, to rehabilitative efforts, and in some cases to punishment. Repeated arrests, then, equal repeated failures to desist offending. As such, in an examination of persistence, arrests no longer can be considered as simply arrests but as active interventions attempted yet resisted by the offender.
While many persistent offenders offend non-violently, some begin to commit more serious crimes and violent crimes. Increasing offence severity is another indication that prior interventions have failed and been resisted. Persistent offenders start early, offend often, and offend longer, leading to a high likelihood to offend throughout their lifespan. Persistence is a precursor to later offending. Measures must be in place to protect the public from the worst persistent offenders and violent offenders.
What should we expect, then, from youth who persist to offend? We should expect to see long and active criminal careers. It is true that they account for more offending and offend for a longer time than other offenders. It is true that they offend at a higher rate into adulthood than other offenders.
For example, for the youth persistent offenders in our study, following release from incarceration and discharge from the subsequent parole the number of arrest charges peaked again at age 21. Further, our study in California found that arrest rates for persistent offenders aged 21 to 24 were eight times higher than the national average arrest rate for the same age group.
Persistent offenders, however, do not continue to offend at a high rate throughout adulthood. Persistent offenders' number of offences do gradually decline with age, although they still offend at a higher rate than do other offenders.
The facts surrounding persistent offenders tempts the conclusion that criminal justice sanctions are ineffective. However, studies have found crime reduction effects of sanctions.
Our study found that during post-release parole arrests remained relatively low, suggesting that supervision under the criminal justice system reduces criminal behaviour. And even with the post-release spike at age 21 in arrests, criminal behaviour was lower after youth incarceration than it was before.
For those persistent offenders in our study who subsequently were incarcerated in adult correctional facilities, arrest rates declined with age after release from those facilities. The re-arrest rates of those incarcerated again as adults were about half the level prior to that incarceration.
How does Bill C-4 help? Society needs protection from persistent and violent young offenders. Bill C-4 proposes amendments to certain provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, welcomed by Canadians, based on the experiences of victims of persistent and violent young offenders. The amendments are also consistent with research on persistent and violent young offenders, and as such offer the criminal justice system an evidence-based and appropriate response to these types of offenders.
There are a small number of dangerous offenders and re-offenders causing a disproportionate amount of crime and harm in Canada. In conclusion, I offer my belief that the amendments to the clauses of the YCJA target that small number of dangerous and repeat offenders from which Canadians should be protected.