Skip to start of content

HomeReportsRestorative justice programs in Australia → Restorative programs in the justice setting

CRC funded reports

Restorative programs in the justice setting

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

Diversion programs for young people have a long tradition in Australia. The first great experiment in addressing juvenile offending emerged from the 'child-saving' ethos of the late nineteenth century (Seymour 1988) with the establishment of a separate court system for offending children (Polk 1993). The Children's Court was assumed to be a benign institution acting in the best interests of the child and it was not until the 1960s that it began to be criticised both for its failure in the rehabilitation of children and its failure to protect their rights. Concerns also began to be felt about the stigmatising effects of contact with the formal justice system, resulting in moves toward pre-court diversion of juvenile offenders. Police cautioning was adopted in most Australian jurisdictions as a major alternative to charging for first-time offenders and less serious offences, while some States also introduced Children's Panels, with the more ambitious objectives of addressing underlying problems in the lives of young offenders.

However, by the late eighties, critiques of these diversion programs were growing. These related to their tendency to widen the net of social control by formally dealing with trivial offences that would previously have been ignored (Austin & Krisberg 1981), to concerns about the protection of the legal rights of young offenders (Naffine & Wundersitz 1994), and to accusations of race, gender and class bias (Gale et al 1990, Alder & Polk 1982, Barry 1993). There was also a growing belief that the emphasis in juvenile justice ought to move from simple punishment towards making young offenders accountable for their actions, while at the same time involving families in making decisions about their children and in addressing the needs and rights of victims.

Developments in New Zealand conferencing proved influential through the nineties as each jurisdiction grappled with the shortcomings of its own juvenile justice system. Australia has never embraced victim-offender mediation, nor have sentencing circles with their hybrid indigenous and formal justice characteristics been tried here. But conferencing came to be seen as a viable response to dissatisfactions with existing diversion programs, even though considerable variation emerged between jurisdictions in the style and pace of that response, as we shall see.

If you see this message you are probably using an old browser: these pages should be readable, but we recommend updating to a modern browser.