What is it like to get - or give - a police caution?

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The government is reviewing how police forces across the country issue cautions, over concerns that too many are being given at present.

Police The use of cautions has fallen by more than 42% in the last five years

A caution is a formal warning issued by police to someone who has admitted to having committed a criminal offence. Cautions are issued at the discretion of police, and enable a sanction to be given without going before the courts.

Last year more than 200,000 people who committed crimes in England and Wales were cautioned, although that figure is 42% lower than the number of cautions given in 2007.

There are, however, concerns that some crimes are not being punished appropriately, and that some serious and repeat offenders are getting off lightly under the current system.

Three people with experience of the way cautions are issued share their stories.

Daniel Jarvis

Fourteen years ago I was cautioned by the police for pulling a panel off a man's garden fence.

I soon realised how silly I'd been. I was assured that, if I was well behaved over the next seven years, the caution would be scrubbed by my 18th birthday.

Two years ago I applied for my current job. During the application process I was required to provide a CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] form.

It was only then that I learned that the caution is still on my record. What's more, due to an administrative error, it appears more than once.

I'm lucky. The job I'm in is the first one I've ever been asked to provide a CRB form for. But I do fear that having multiple cautions will hold me back.

Despite the issues I've had with the system, I do think that cautions work. I was shock-therapied into keeping on the straight and narrow with my head down.

Without the caution I may not have sorted my life out. For certain age groups a caution has a major impact. But cautioning can't continue if people re-offend.

Helen (not her real name)

My ex-husband was given a caution for leaving me with a head injury. He punched and kicked the back and side of my head over two dozen times.

I hit him back using the telephone against his head. Then he called the police. When they arrived both of us were arrested and taken to custody.

Start Quote

If officers think that the CPS will reduce the charge and waste hours of time spent on paperwork it's easier to give a caution.”

End Quote Chris Hobbs (retired police officer)

I was very ill in there but I was refused medical help. I'd stopped drinking six hours before arriving. My ex-husband, on the other hand, had been drinking most of the night. We were both offered cautions.

It seemed as though the officers were desperate to get two cautions on their books. My ex-husband took the caution but I decided not to. I was prosecuted and I pleaded not guilty.

I was found not guilty but despite that my history of being arrested for personal assault stays on my record. I've applied 12 times to the chief constable to have the record downgraded, because currently it crops up in every CRB check.

I wasn't happy with the caution for [my husband]. I complained to the CPS and the police. It was far too lenient, particularly given that he'd assaulted me before and I'd called the police then. They denied having previously received any calls.

I think cautions are completely inappropriate. They're more about police targets than anything else. They are a meaningless effort.

With a caution the police can play judge and jury. They can complete the circle themselves - without justice being served.

Chris Hobbs (retired Metropolitan Police officer)

Cautions are a useful tool for an officer. In the evenings if you arrest someone you could be off the road for many hours. Arrests take a huge amount of paperwork - whereas a caution is quick, swift and can still form part of a criminal record.

Contrary to what some people believe, a caution is not a complete "get out of jail free" card. A caution appears on your criminal record and can be used to decide what happens to you if you re-offend.

Sometimes if you're not sure if the offender will be convicted, a caution is a good way to ensure that they get on the books.

There are issues with cautions but the wider problems are arrest paperwork and how long it takes to bring someone before the courts, and the CPS. If officers think that the CPS will reduce the charge and waste hours of time spent on paperwork it's easier to give a caution.

A caution can turn someone's life around. It's a nasty kick up the backside - but it says you deserve a second chance. Where [Justice Secretary] Chris Grayling does have a point is that someone shouldn't receive more than one caution for similar offences.

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