Reprimands and Warnings

Before the Act, a non-statutory practice had evolved whereby the police would divert young offenders from the courts by issuing 'cautions' or, in more serious cases, 'cautions plus'. The latter were often accompanied by an additional element of counseling or therapy. Such schemes were patchy in operation, with inevitable expressions of concern over their relative informality. Under the Act (1998), formal 'reprimands and warnings' have replaced cautions and cautions plus (s. 65). This new approach is far more systematic, with considerably clearer restorative objectives. A reprimand or warning may be issued where:

• a police officer has evidence that an offence has been committed by a child or young person;

• the evidence is such that the officer believes that there would be a realistic prospect of conviction;

• the offender admits that he or she has committed the offense;

• the offender has not previously been convicted of an offense; and

• the officer is satisfied that it would not be in the public interest for the offender to be prosecuted. (Act 1998, s. 65(1))

If a warning or reprimand is issued, the young person in question must be referred to a YOT, which provides an assessment, and arranges where appropriate for participation in a rehabilitation program, the purpose of which is to 'rehabilitate participants and to prevent them from re-offending'. The Act (1998) has specified that a key objective of such programs is to make the offender understand the effect that his or her behavior has on others, most notably the victim (s. 66).

The Home Office (2000) emphasizes that the delivery of reprimands and warnings should incorporate principles of Restorative Justice wherever possible. Along these lines, a 'restorative conference' may be warranted, if the offense is suitable, and if the young person, his or her parents, and the victim are all willing. This option provides for administration of the warning within an inclusive environment, helping to ensure that the offender fully realizes the impact of his or her behavior. Once every party has had the opportunity to provide input into the discussion, the police officer may issue the warning. The Act (1998) requires that such transactions occur at a police station (s. 65(5)), although, for obvious reasons, this may not be the most conducive setting for meaningful attitudinal and/or behavioral change.

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