Second chance plan for young drug offenders

FIRST-TIME young drug offenders will escape prosecution for minor crimes under a plan announced yesterday to extend the juvenile cautioning system.

In an effort to encourage rehabilitation for first time 'soft' drug possession offences, the Fight Crime Committee supported the proposal to give youngsters a second chance.

The move, which was first mooted at the Governor's drug summit in March, comes as the number of drug-related arrests involving young people soared by 34 per cent last year.

Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling said yesterday that the extension of the police superintendents' discretion scheme would only apply to minor first time offences and not more serious opiate-related cases.

Young drug offenders caught with small quantities of illegal substances would also have to admit the crime and agree to counselling as well as have the support of their families.

Youngsters with quantities that amounted to a trafficking offence could not qualify for the scheme, Mr Lai said.

'The aim of this particular extension is part and parcel of our efforts to combat the problem of young drug trafficking,' he said.

The scheme has been questioned by some youth workers who fear it could be abused without a good monitoring system.

Outreach social worker Tang Leung-shun said young people may be encouraged to commit drug crimes if they think they will have a second chance.

Legislator James To Kun-sun yesterday said the administration of the scheme needed to be 'very cautious'.

But he was satisfied the limitations would guarantee that serious offenders or those who were not keen to reform would not escape punishment.

The Commissioner for Narcotics, Alasdair Sinclair, endorsed the extension, saying youngsters may not realise the seriousness of drug offences.

He said it was dangerous in these minor cases to 'sweep them up into the justice system'.