A Significant feature of the Juvenile Justice Act 2003, is the provision for Police Reprimand and Final Warning, which in my opinion undoubtedly are replacements to the hitherto police cautioning of children and young persons, thus providing a formalized system of pre court disposals.
It is my assessment that the scheme provides for a relatively inflexible, three tier approach to police decision making: a first offence generally resulting in a police reprimand; a second offence receiving a police warning; a third offence automatically giving rise to prosecution-other than perhaps in exceptional circumstances-irrespective of the nature of the crime.
As a childcare practitioner, l have had expressed concerns about the previous inconsistent use of cautioning given that it afforded the police relatively wide discretion to deal with children and young people who committed crimes and cautions could be administered on a number of occasions if the police considered it appropriate.
In my professional view, the final warning scheme by contrast, limits police discretion by the introduction of a three staged response to children and young people's criminal or anti social behavior.
A police reprimand is given for a first offence and a police warning for a second offence, providing the crime in question is relatively minor and the suspect admits responsibility.
A further criminal behavior following a police warning, no matter how trivial will normally result in prosecution.
It may be said that the replacement of cautions by police final warning scheme represents an effort at injecting greater transparency and consistency into pre court disposals.
However, it has fallen short of confronting children and young people with the consequences of their criminal behaviour at the earliest point in their offending careers.
This could have been achieved had the government provided the opportunity for an assessment process that should identify the crimogenic factors associated with the child or young person's criminal behaviour, such as substance abuse, poor school attendance, homelessness, peer pressure, inadequate parenting and or unemployment.
An assessment outcome that can inform the practitioner in devising individualized intervention programmes in addressing the perceived needs of the child or young person as it is my view that this is critical in preventing re-offending.
I may think that the introduction of the final warning scheme was intended to bring greater clarity to the system, encourage consistency in police decision making and provide a more meaningful response to criminal behaviour of children and young people.
Should this be the good intention, then there is the urgent need to provide a window of opportunity to develop a framework for early intervention initiatives.
From my professional practice perspective, this would be the only means by which the new scheme can be acknowledged as a mechanism of contributing toward the principal aim of preventing criminal behaviour by children and young people through diverting them from their offending and anti social behaviour before they enter the court system.
Providing appropriate and effective intervention programmes to prevent re-offending by children and young persons and ensuring that those who do re-offend after being warned, are dealt with promptly and effectively by the courts, should be an intergral feature of any credible Youth Justice System.
• The author holds a B.A. Hons.(University of Ghana, Legon,) and M.A Applied Social Studies/ DipSW (Durham University,UK )
• He is also the Operational Director of the Offender Management and Rehabilitation Organisation ( OMRO ) and a Youth Crime Prevention and Management Practitioner in an inner London Borough.
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