But a hard core of persistent young offenders and 'bail bandits' should be put behind bars, MPs were told. Committee members, taking evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales and the Police Federation heard that 80 per cent of children never reoffended after their first caution. But problems arose when offenders reached their third or fourth caution. Vee Neild, general secretary of the Police Federation, said: 'You have a different crime and a different victim, but the caution is repeating the same words.
'Juveniles are actually laughing at you. They are not taking any notice of you. They are coming out of the station where their mates are waiting saying they've got their third or fourth caution.'
Tony Butler, deputy Chief Constable of the Leicestershire force, representing Acpo, urged greater use of 'cautioning plus' - recycling resources into more imaginative strategies for education, welfare and social services.
Greater intervention, perhaps through parental counselling or community service, might ensure a further 10 per cent of children did not reoffend, Mr Butler said. This could be comined with apologies and reparations to victims.
John Hoddinott, Chief Constable of Hampshire, also representing Acpo, said: 'Once you get beyond caution one and two, we are cautioning in a vacuum. We need to fill that vacuum.'
But the three organisations' representatives told the committee that police were powerless to control a hard core of youngsters who could run up a string of offences in a matter of months, ignore cautions, abscond while on bail and go on to re-offend.
Mr Hoddinott said: 'We have reached a fairly desperate state. Something has to be done, and that something has to be custody because the alternative is to take decisions that will allow them to burgle someone's house and steal someone's car.'
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