The NSW Protected Admissions Scheme for Young Offenders
In mid-2014, the Protected Admissions Scheme came into operation in NSW. It is a ground breaking scheme aimed at keeping young offenders out of the court system and avoiding lifelong criminal convictions for minor offences.
The scheme gives young offenders the chance to admit to having committed a crime without any of the usual legal repercussions. The police will not use the admission as evidence against the offender, and will instead issue a caution.
The crimes for which a protected admission can be made are minor, for example damaging property and drug offences concerning small quantities of illicit drugs. In short, they are crimes that are more appropriately dealt with by caution rather than by subjecting the young offender to the court process and possible criminal conviction.
According to police, a caution is a process that explores why the crime was committed, the impact on others (for example, the victim, the community, the offender’s family and friends), implications for the offender if the offending continues, and how they can avoid further offending.
The Protected Admissions Scheme was implemented after police encountered difficulties with the caution process. Offenders were unwilling to admit to offences unless they were first promised a caution. But their unwillingness to admit meant they could not be cautioned. This automatically subjected them to the court system.
Worse still, often their criminal lawyers could not advise them to admit to the offence because they had not seen all the necessary paperwork. It was a frustrating catch-22 for all concerned, subjecting an already overloaded court system to extra pressure, putting young offenders at risk of the long term effect of criminal convictions and adding to the workload of police.
Making a protected admission
Under the scheme, if an offender will not admit to the crime, they can, in specific circumstances, be offered the chance to make a protected admission. Police will take into account the type of offence and the offender’s criminal history.
The offender is strongly encouraged to seek legal advice from criminal defence lawyers before making the admission.
The offender is then asked to sign a document, indicating that they will make a protected admission, and is given a written undertaking by police that the admission will not be used in any circumstances.
The police then interview the offender, detailing the offence and asking the offender to comment. The offender is expected to provide information to the police, detailing their involvement in the crime and admitting to the offence.
If the offender does not admit to the crime, no caution is offered and the matter is referred to the courts.
Has it worked?
While there is not yet any word on whether this scheme has been successful, it certainly seems sensible. There is little point in dishing out lifelong punishment to young offenders if they have committed a crime that was a one-off exercise in poor judgment.