the criminology and criminal justice network
The Referral Order is commonly used by magistrates for 'first time' offenders who have pleaded 'guilty' to an offence in court for those 10 - 17 years of age. Offences can be anything, apart from murder, although of course, anything as serious as rape for example, will come under a Section 90/91 sentence where; an act that would evoke a 14+ year custodial sentence for an adult is committed by a child is given a much more punitive sentence.
The young offender then is 'referred' to a Youth Offender Panel; a panel of 2 community volunteers (trained as Youth Offender Service practitioners), a member of the local Youth Offender Team (YOT), the offender and supporters (parent/guardian) and the victim or representative of the victim. These meetings are as informal as possible (given restrictions of policy), and are meant to:
1) Make the offender understand the consequences of their actions, in turn to show true remorse/guilt for their actions which should spark a true apology.
2) To agree between all parties, an Action Plan Contract which lasts between 3-12 months (time decided by magistrate court). A number of orders and interventions, etc... can be used though an aspect of reparation/restoration is essential.
3) To give the victim an opportunity to get involved and become empowered. To allow them to confront the offender (peacefully) and gain an understanding of the causes of the offence. It is common for there to be alot of tension in the meetings, however by the agreement of the contract; the victim often becomes very empathetic of the offender and is keen to address any underlying causes that are addressed.
4) Prevent re-offending by addressing issues that may have caused the offending. Family - School - Community and Individual factors are taken into consideration, and the contract & YOT team work with the offender as best they can to address these issues.
Given the ages of the offenders (10 - 17)... the proposition of having to meet face to face with their victims, and to then have to agree to a strict and often busy contract at such a young age can be extremely daunting. (I know this from 1 on 1 experience) In my opinion, this and the contract is punishment enough for young offenders that are eligible for the Referral Order.
What do you think? Too Soft? Too Harsh? Or Just About Right?