Burglarize a Store, and You Won't Even Have To Go to Court:

[Please note UPDATE below.] The Daily Mail (U.K.) reports on the new British policy:

Burglars will be allowed to escape without punishment under new instructions sent to all police forces. Police have been told they can let them off the threat of a court appearance and instead allow them to go with a caution.

The same leniency will be shown to criminals responsible for more than 60 other different offences, ranging from arson through vandalism to sex with underage girls....

A caution counts as a criminal record but means the offender does not face a court appearance which would be likely to end in a fine, a community punishment or jail.

Some serious offences - including burglary of a shop or office, threatening to kill, actual bodily harm, and possession of Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine - may now be dealt with by caution if police decide that would be the best approach.

And a string of crimes including common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent, should normally be dealt with by a caution, the circular said.

The Home Office instruction applies to offenders who have admitted their guilt but who have no criminal record....

The crisis of overcrowding in UK prisons has also prompted moves to let many more convicts out earlier.

It emerged last month that some violent or sex offenders, given mandatory life sentences under a "two-strike" rule, have been freed after as little as 15 months....

A number of crimes - notably shoplifting - are now regularly dealt with by fixed penalty notices similar to a parking fine....

I may be missing some important aspects of the British justice system that might explain why this is going on, and make it more sensible than it appears. Moreover, most crime is not committed by people who lack a criminal record, and if the British justice system continues to go after people who have such a record (which apparently includes "cautions"), then the free first bite at the apple might not have that much of an effect. Still, my quick reaction is that this is a bad idea, and is likely to substantially increase crime and reduce Britons' sense of security. The British burglary rate has apparently been falling since its mid-1990s modern records (see part 4.2), and is now at roughly the U.S. levels (see table 1). But it's still pretty high — 2.7% of all households are burglarized each year — and the essential decriminalization of first-offense burglary seems to me likely to drive it higher. (Incidentally, it may well be that some American and continental European jurisdictions have similar policies; I'm not suggesting that this is a quintessentially British failing.)

Thanks to Glenn Wright Bowen for the pointer.

UPDATE: I originally misread the story, and improperly titled this post "Burglarize a House, and You Won't Even Have To Go to Court" — according to the article, the caution policy applies only to burglaries of shops or offices. I've revised the heading accordingly; my apologies, and my thanks to the readers who e-mailed to correct me.