Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Examining Adult-Onset Offending: A Case for Adult Cautioning

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Examining Adult-Onset Offending: A Case for Adult Cautioning

Article excerpt

Criminologists have traditionally considered adult-onset offending to be a rare phenomenon (Eggleston & Laub 2002). Consequently, little criminological theory, research or policy has focused on adult-onset offending. However, an emerging body of research suggests that a substantial number of offenders have their first contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) at 18 years of age or older (Delisi & Piquero 2011). Despite increasing interest in adult-onset offenders, the nature of adult-onset offending is still poorly understood. Moreover, it is unclear whether traditional criminal justice responses for adult offenders are appropriate for adult-onset offenders. In this study, the extent, nature and costs of adultonset offending are examined, alongside the appropriateness and cost-effectiveness of current criminal justice responses.

The limited research examining adult-onset offenders indicates that these offenders have lower rates of reconviction, commit far fewer crimes and perpetrate less serious offences than early-onset offenders (eg Carrington, Matarazzo & deSouza 2005; Kratzer & Hodgins 1999). However, in some cases, the criminal careers of adult-onset offenders are extensive and serious (Delisi & Piquero 2011). Recent research in two population-based Queensland offender cohorts identified a clear and prevalent low-rate, adult-onset offender trajectory (Allard, Chrzanowski & Stewart 2012; Allard et al. 2014). Although a high-rate, adult-onset offender trajectory was not identified, a small late-onset chronic offender trajectory was identified that included offenders with an onset at 18 years or older.

Together, this research suggests that for many adult-onset offenders, their criminal career may be brief and less serious. However, for some adult-onset offenders, their criminal career may be both chronic and serious. To date, research has not disaggregated adultonset offenders across severity or chronicity. If both low-rate/less serious and chronic/ serious groups of adult-onset offenders can be identified, this has important implications for responding to these offenders.

According to best practice principles of offender rehabilitation, sanctions and interventions should be commensurate with the level of risk posed by an offender (Andrews & Dowden 2006). Intensive interventions should be reserved for chronic offenders who pose an ongoing risk. For low-risk offenders, CJS interventions should be minimised or even avoided, as such interventions may unintentionally increase the likelihood of reoffending (Andrews & Dowden 2006). For these offenders, diversion, such as formal police cautioning, may be a more appropriate, efficient and cost-effective response than current practices of court processing.

Although formal police cautioning for adults is not legislated in Queensland, police policy enables cautions to be used for minor offences perpetrated by individuals over 65 years or with intellectual disabilities (QPS 2012). Formal adult cautioning is also used for limited offences in other jurisdictions in Australia such as for minor drug offences and shoplifting in Victoria (Victoria Police 2012) and for possessing cannabis in New South Wales and Tasmania (NCPIC 2013). Furthermore, broader adult cautioning schemes operate overseas for predominantly less serious and first-time offences (eg England and Wales; Ministry of Justice 2013). Formal police cautioning is also routinely used for youths across a broad range of offences in all jurisdictions in Australia (Little & Allard 2011).

Evaluations of formal police cautioning schemes support the effectiveness of cautioning for recidivism and cost savings, particularly for low-risk offenders (eg Allard et al. 2010). If most adult-onset offenders are low-rate, low-risk offenders, diversion may be a more appropriate response to most adult-onset offending rather than processing these individuals through the adult courts. …

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