As well as being of major concern to the broader community, youth crime is often a precursor to a criminal career extending well into adult years. The use of police cautions is one measure which may assist in reducing the incidence of juvenile re-offending, both by serving as a warning to first time offenders and allowing them to avoid the stigma of a court appearance. This study shows that police cautioning may be a viable cost saving strategy when young offenders are involved. The study of all persons born in Queensland in 1984 found that the majority of young offenders who are cautioned for their first offence are less likely to have re-contact with the juvenile justice system before the age of 17 years than those who are brought before a court. The caveat to this finding is that the current research did not track children beyond 17 years of age. Importantly children who have been maltreated and cautioned are more likely to re-offend than those who have not been maltreated highlighting the importance of programs that target risk factors associated with maltreatment early in a child's life. This is particularly the case for young Indigenous children.
This study builds on a previous project, Pathways from child maltreatment to juvenile offending (Stewart, Dennison & Waterson 2002). That project examined the link between child maltreatment and juvenile offending. It followed all children born in 1983 in Queensland through any contact they had with the child protection system, and/or any juvenile justice matter that required the child to appear in court or be held in custody. The current study involved the addition of the 1984 birth cohort and formal police cautioning histories to the dataset. This report will describe the key findings in relation to cautioning. The aim of this part of the research was to examine the relationship between cautioning and subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system. A detailed description of the outcomes of the maltreatment research is contained in the full report submitted to the Criminology Research Council (Stewart, Dennison & Hurren 2005).
Diversion occurs in all jurisdictions in Australia (O'Connor & Cameron 2002; Polk et al. 2003; Wundersitz 1997). In Queensland diversion is a primary official response to juvenile offending and is outlined in the Juvenile Justice Act 1992. Within the Queensland juvenile justice system, young people between the ages of 10 and 16 years are deemed children and are entitled to standard due process rights, as well as some special consideration relating to their age (O'Connor & Cameron 2002). Children who are 17 are dealt with by the adult system. Diversion includes being informally cautioned or warned, or formally cautioned by police, or referred to a family conference. As conferences were used infrequently during the relevant period for these birth cohorts, police cautioning is the only form of diversion examined in this study. Formal cautions typically result in an internal police record of the offence by the young person, as well as a record of the administration of the caution (Wundersitz 1997). Therefore formal, rather than informal cautions, form the basis of this study. According to the Juvenile Justice Act 1992, a caution is typically administered in cases of offending that are non-serious, though a caution can be administered in a case of serious offending at the discretion of the police officer.
While labelling theory was originally one of the key justifications for juvenile diversion, this theory has encountered varying levels of popularity, and empirical findings have often been inconsistent (Bernburg & Krohn 2003). In the Australian context, some additional anticipated benefits of diversion were that the processing of juveniles would be less expensive and more expethent, and the process would become much simpler (Wundersitz 1997). …