Youth caution urged

New crime data released this week has revealed young people who are cautioned by police are less likely to reoffend compared to those who are charged.

Research published by the Crime Statistics Agency found that 36 per cent of young people who received a caution reoffended within 12 months, opposed to 48 per cent of young people who were formally charged.

The study highlighted a quarter of young people who were charged reoffended within three months, while a quarter of young people who were reoffended within six months.

Crime Statistics Agency chief statistician Fiona Dowsley said the study looked at people under the age of 18 who had committed an offence between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2016.

“Our research found young people who received a caution were slower to reoffend and were recorded for fewer offences than young people who received a charge,” Ms Dowsley said.

“Police make decisions about who to caution on a range of eligibility criteria. So if a person has a significant reoffending history, then they’re more likely to be charged.

“There is a lot of evidence that criminologists have found that by keeping people out of the criminal justice system, it tends to support better outcomes. Because once they’re brought into the system, its harder for them to get out because they become entrenched and are more likely to face charges.”

The study revealed Latrobe City was one of the lowest cautioning areas in the state on percentage with 35.4 per cent of young people involved in a crime issued a caution.

However, police in Latrobe City gave out the most cautions across Victoria with a total of 75 warnings issued between April 2015 and March 2016.

It compared to South Gippsland, which was one of the highest local government areas to issue cautions, with 17 cautions issued, equating to 77 per cent of young people spoken to by police.

According to Victoria Police guidelines, young people may be eligible for a caution if they admit to the offence, are aged 10 to 17 years, their parent or guardian consents to the caution and the parent or guardian is present during the formal provision of the caution.

Berry Street Regional Director Gippsland associate professor Annette Jackson said the difference between cautioning and charging a young person was the “difference between a reality check and a label”.

“We know that growing up is very different for every child. Many of us learn through our families, teachers, friends and sport,” Ms Jackson said.

“We learn things like right and wrong, we learn how to solve problems, we learn how to manage our emotions and we learn how to cope when things hit the fan.

“Sadly not every child has that opportunity to learn those things and so particularly for the kids that haven’t had that experience through home or school, they are often the ones that are going to find themselves in trouble with the police.”

Ms Jackson said there was a number of benefits by police issuing a caution where appropriate.

“We’re not talking about serious violent crimes, we’re talking about the difference police can make in a judgement call between cautioning a young person and charging them,” she said.

“Victoria leads the way in this area and not only do we have fewer younger people in custody, but we also have a lower crime rate per population as opposed to other states.”

Latrobe Inspector Rob Wallace said police encourage the use of caution notices where appropriate.

“When a caution notice is issued there are also appropriate referrals made to supporting agencies who provide support and pathways to assist in preventing youth from committing further offences,” Insp Wallace said.

“We are also in partnership with the Children’s Court and [the Department of Health and Human Services] offering youth diversion and providing appropriate support networks to again prevent youth committing further offences.

“The Latrobe Proactive Policing Unit are also involved in the process and where appropriate meet with the young offender to provide further options and support.”