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Policing Young Offenders: What Role Discretion?

NCJ Number
International Journal of Police Science & Management Volume: 10 Issue: 4 Dated: Winter 2008 Pages: 474-485
Ann L. Parker; Rick Sarre
Date Published
12 pages
This study reports on a survey of 220 police officers in New South Wales (Australia) who reported on the way in which they routinely dealt with or planned to deal with 4 offenses commonly committed by juvenile offenders.
The study found that officers differed significantly in the ways they had or would deal with youth who committed shoplifting, burglary, underage drinking, and assault. Thirty percent of police officers issued a warning to young shoplifters; 50 percent diverted them to rehabilitation; and 20 percent arrested them. Five percent of the officers issued a warning to youth accused of burglary; 20 percent would divert them to rehabilitation; and 75 percent had or would arrest them. Regarding underage drinking, 64 percent of police issued warnings; 31 percent diverted the youth; and 5 percent arrested the youth. For assaults, police were most likely to divert the offenders. The concern is not that police used their discretion in dealing with youth who committed these offenders, but rather whether police discretion is used fairly and consistently, without being influenced by officers’ biases or other variables associated with a youth’s personality, attitude, or behavior unrelated to the offense. The variables most influential in determining police decisions were the nature and gravity of the offense, followed by the youth’s degree of involvement. The youth’s previous offending and the youth’s attitude toward the offending were also influential in determining police decisions, but to a lesser extent than the other two variables. The 220 officers held ranks from constable to inspector. The officers were asked to report their decisions in their five most recent cases regarding the four offenses. 6 tables, 45 references, and appended measures of past officer behavior and scenario measures of intended behavior