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CRC funded reports

Adult conferencing

Published in: Restorative justice programs in Australia : a report to the Criminology Research Council
Heather Strang
March 2001

As we observed at the outset, in Australia restorative justice programs are usually seen as being most suitable for juvenile rather than adult offenders. This is probably due partly to a desire to try new programs first on less serious offenders, partly to a widespread, though misleading, view that these programs are most appropriate for trivial offences (see Sherman et al 2000) and partly to the influence of the New Zealand experience, where family group conferencing was introduced as a specifically juvenile justice initiative.

However, three jurisdictions in Australia have been using conferencing programs with adults, even though the great majority of participants remain juvenile offenders. These are Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT.

In Queensland, where juveniles are defined as under 17 years, about one quarter of conferences conducted since the program began in 1997 have been adult offenders (though 48 percent of the total adult referrals have been 17 year olds). However, these are no legislative provisions to cover adult conferencing, and hence no privacy and other protections. Courts do not refer adults to conferencing and all cases are dealt with under administrative arrangements between police and Family, Youth and Community Care Queensland.

In Western Australia, a pilot project has recently been undertaken at Fremantle Magistrates court involving the conferencing of adult males who had entered a plea of guilty in relation to offences of burglary, stealing, larceny, fraud or assault and who were facing the likelihood of a custodial sentence. It was necessary for both police and the magistrate to agree to a conference before victims were contacted, and they had to be willing to participate for the conference to proceed. The pilot resulted in nine referrals leading to two completed conferences (six offenders refused a conference and in another case the victim refused). A research project involving the same eligibility criteria is now underway at Central Law Courts, Perth and the Fremantle Magistrate Courts and is being evaluated by researchers at Murdoch and Edith Cowan Universities.

In the ACT, age has never been a criteria for eligibility to participate in the police-run conferencing program and both adults and juveniles who admit their offence are eligible for the program at the discretion of the apprehending police officer.

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