An examination of how youth understand their rights during the criminal process
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In order for young people to meaningfully participate in the criminal justice system they must possess an understanding of their rights and legal procedures. To examine their understanding, 50 young people between the ages of 13-17 who received an extrajudicial sanction or were sentenced to probation, were recruited from the Finch Courthouse in Toronto, Ontario. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants regarding their understanding of their due process rights and their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Youth who indicated involvement in plea bargaining were also asked about their experiences during this procedure. In addition, the present study examined youths' perceptions of power differences in their interactions with criminal justice officials working within an institution that has tremendous control over offenders' lives. The results indicate that while youth seem to have some understanding oftheir rights and legal procedures, they nevertheless feel ill-equipped to invoke their rights in an adult-led criminal justice system. Furthermore, while past literature has often conceptualized youth understanding based on age (e.g., Crawford & Bull, 2006) the findings of the present study demonstrate that while age plays some role, the lack of power experienced by youth vis-a-vis adults, and specifically criminal justice professionals, has the most bearing on the inability of youth to exercise their rights.