Cautions serve youth better than courts

Sending children to court for relatively minor offences could actually do more harm than good.

A new study from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR), found rates of re-offending were lower amongst a group of young offenders given a caution than among a matched group referred to court.

The study examined 19,759 juvenile offenders in NSW aged 17 and under who were cautioned or referred to court in 2011, 2012 or 2013. Of these 19,143 were cautioned and 616 were referred to court.

Those who were referred to court were eligible to receive a caution. Offenders were also matched on a wide range of factors including offence, prior contact with the court system, age, Indigenous status and number of concurrent offences.

The researchers found 40.8% were more likely to reoffend within the caution group while 45.9 % reoffended with the court group.

BOSCAR Director Dr Don Weatherburn will present the study at the Applied Research in Crime and Justice Conference in Brisbane on Friday, February 16.

He said cautioning youths may be a more effective option because it was less stigmatising than a court appearance and the young person is not burdened with a conviction record.

“Wherever we are dealing with young offenders who do not commit serious offences and do not have a significant criminal history we should caution them rather than send them to court.

“Cautions might seem like a soft option but for many young offenders without a significant criminal history, they may be more constructive in the long run than sending a young offender off to court.”

Hosted by the Griffith Criminology Institute and the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the conference will showcase Australian and international research in the areas of policing, offender rehabilitation, situational crime prevention, corrections, early-intervention and criminal justice administration.