Ontario’s youth justice system

Ontario’s youth justice system holds youth accountable for their actions and helps them turn their lives around, while working with their parents, guardians and communities. The youth justice system is separate from the adult justice system.

When someone aged 12 to 17 breaks the law, police look to applicable laws to decide whether to lay charges. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, for example, is a federal law that recognizes that youth at that age have different needs from adults.

The youth justice system’s programs and services:

  • are based on research about reducing reoffending behaviour
  • seek to improve outcomes for youth
  • align with the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act
  • are responsive to the physical, mental and emotional levels of development, language and cultural or spiritual beliefs and practices

Prevent youth crime

You can help youth stay out of trouble

Learn about resources in the community and at school that can help youth to:

  • receive mental health services
  • receive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse
  • receive skills training to enhance employability
  • find a job
  • graduate high school
  • find training for skills needed to be job-ready

If a youth is arrested or has broken the law

If someone is under 18 years of age at the time of an offence, police must contact their parent or guardian if they are arrested.

What to do if a youth breaks the law

Find out what happens if a youth commits a crime. Youth can be charged, held at a detention facility before trial or referred to community-based programs.

What to do if a youth is arrested

Find out what to do if a youth who is under 18 is arrested. As a parent or a guardian, it is important to be prepared to support the youth through the process.

How we hold youth accountable

Youth in conflict with the law are held accountable for their actions through proportionate measures. This means the measures taken and consequences for the youth are proportionate to both the:

  • seriousness of the offence
  • degree to which the youth is responsible for the offence

When a youth is in conflict with the law, they may be:

  • warned or formally cautioned by the police if the offence is less serious
  • diverted to a community program
  • charged, sent to court and, if found guilty, sentenced to probation or custody if the offence is more serious

What happens when a youth has been found guilty in court

Learn about community-based and custody sentences. Find support to help youth rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community successfully.

Find community programs

There are community-based programs that can address the needs of youth who have been in conflict with the law which can help them:

  • take responsibility for their actions
  • make better choices
  • get an education or a job
  • learn important life skills
  • contribute to their communities

Contact 211 Ontario for more information.

Volunteer or work in youth justice

Learn about volunteering and job opportunities in Ontario’s youth justice sector.

Your rights and responsibilities

Youth Justice Task Force

Ontario has set up a Youth Justice Task Force (Task Force) to advise the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services on how to address the needs of youth and staff in the youth justice system.

The members of the task force are appointed by the minister under an Order-in-Council. Together, they have a range of knowledge, expertise and experience in many areas, including:

  • youth mental health
  • mental health research
  • psychology of criminal conduct
  • crime prevention
  • rehabilitation
  • victim services
  • child protection
  • supporting youth in the child welfare system
  • family law
  • advocacy for poverty reduction
  • supporting black communities
  • anti-oppression, equality, diversity and inclusion principles

The skills and background of the task force members allow them to offer advice through diverse viewpoints.


For more information on Youth Justice system you can contact your regional office