Re-offending by young people cautioned or conferenced

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Release date: Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Juveniles who receive a caution or a youth justice conference are less likely to re-offend than those who are referred to the Children's Court, a new report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found.

The Bureau identified a group of young offenders cautioned by police (n = 5,981) or dealt with at a Youth Justice Conference (n = 1,711) in 1999 and tracked their subsequent contacts with the court system over the ensuing five years.

Forty-two per cent of those cautioned and 58 per cent of those dealt with at a youth justice conference had a further offence proved against them in the Children's Court over the five-year follow-up period. Earlier Bureau research has shown that 65 per cent of those appearing in the Children's Court are convicted of a further offence within five years.

Only a small proportion of those cautioned (5.2 per cent) or conferenced (10.8 per cent) committed an offence serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence within five years of being cautioned or conferenced.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, cautioned that they should not be interpreted as evidence that the Children's Court is less effective in reducing juvenile recidivism than Youth Justice Conferences or Police cautions.

"The Young Offender's Act establishes a hierarchy of responses to suspected juvenile offending, ranging in order of seriousness from police warnings to police cautions, then to referral to a youth justice conference and, finally, referral to the Children's Court".

"Young offenders deemed by police to be at higher risk of re-offending are more likely to be sent to the Children's Court. Those who are deemed to be lower risks are more likely to be dealt with via a police caution or referred by police to a youth justice conference",he said.

Dr Weatherburn said that there was a strong case for further Government investment in early intervention programs, such as multisystemic therapy 1, which is currently being trialled in Western Australia and which has been shown in overseas research to be effective in reducing juvenile re-offending.

"Effective early intervention programs are expensive but in the long run they pay for themselves through reduced rates of arrest and incarceration", Dr Weatherburn said.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn, 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408

1 Multisystemic therapy (MST) is an intensive family- and community-based treatment that addresses known risk factors for offending (e.g. poor school performance, drug use, association with delinquent peers). The usual duration of MST is four months.