Individuals – Shanahan et al. (2017)

Study Reference:

Shanahan, M., Hughes, C. E., McSweeney, T., & Griffin, B. A. (2017). Alternate policing strategies: Cost-effectiveness of cautioning for cannabis offences. International Journal of Drug Policy41, 140-147.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; Focused; Reactive; Rigorous; No evidence of effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined a cautioning strategy in Australia whereby individuals found to be using or possessing minor amounts of cannabis were given a police caution instead of being charged or arrested. In addition to the caution, the cannabis was confiscated and destroyed, but no criminal record was generated. The caution served as a diversion from the traditional criminal justice system and in some cases directed individuals to education or treatment programs.

How was the intervention evaluated?

A nationwide survey compared 195 individuals who had been charged for cannabis possession or use to 355 people who had received the formal caution instead of a charge. The police interaction occurred within three to nine months before completing the survey for all included participants. “Treatment” cases were matched to control cases for demographic variables, levels of drug use, and prior criminal involvement. Outcomes were then measured based on self-reported cannabis use following the police response. Costs associated with the police response were also analyzed.

What were the key findings?

No statistically significant difference was found in self-reported cannabis use between those who received a criminal charge and those who were given a caution by the police. A significant difference was found in the cost of the two interventions. The mean cost incurred by the justice system of handling cases for those charged was $733 (after subtracting fines collected which help to offset costs), while the cost to the justice system of handling those given a caution was $388.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The results indicate that neither approach is more effective at reducing cannabis use, while the cost analysis showed significant cost savings associated with having the police issue a caution in place of a criminal charge. These results support seeking alternatives to arrest and formal criminal sanction for minor drug offenses and demonstrate the potential for cost savings without increasing reoffending.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?