The increase use of formal youth diversion programs in Canada coincided with the enactment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003. Following the tenets of the labeling theory, the statute sought a balance that would help limit formal court intervention to increase fairness and accountability for youth committing minor offenses. Despite the perceived benefits, diversion programs have not escaped criticism. Some researchers contend pre-charge diversion programs that are based on police discretion may suffer from selection bias. Using police data from a local police service (N = 6,479 cases) in Ontario, Canada, this article conducts a bivariate analysis to explore the personal characteristics of first-time offending youth (gender, race, and area of residence) and attempts to determine whether there are any differences in the youth being charged or diverted for minor drug possession and minor thefts. Results demonstrate variances in charging practices based on race. Race has a small but statistically significant impact on arrest decisions. In general, Black youth are more likely to be charged and less likely to be cautioned than White youth and youth from other racial backgrounds. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Additional Metadata
Keywords criminological theories, juvenile courts, juvenile delinquency, labeling theory, race and juvenile justice, race and policing
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1177/2153368719889093
Journal Race and Justice
Citation
Samuels-Wortley, K. (2019). Youthful Discretion: Police Selection Bias in Access to Pre-Charge Diversion Programs in Canada. Race and Justice. doi:10.1177/2153368719889093