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CRC funded reports

Northern Territory

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

Characteristics of the Program

Conferencing on the 'Wagga' model was trialed in the Northern Territory in 1995-96 when the Northern Territory Police ran a series of 34 conferences in Alice Springs and Yuendumu. Eligible offences were those which would otherwise have been dealt with in court, excluding serious violence, sexual offences and domestic violence, where the offender admitted the offence and both victim and offender agreed to a conference. The evaluation report (Fry 1997) found that of these 34 cases, 26 were concluded successfully: most victims were satisfied with the program and all offenders complied with their outcome agreement. The report recommended that the program be implemented throughout the Northern Territory.

In 1999, at the direction of the Chief Minister's Office, a diversionary conferencing program was established for post-court diversion for juvenile offenders aged 15-16 years. It is one of over 20 juvenile diversion programs run by the Department of Correctional Services and is offered to second-time juvenile property offenders. Offenders who refuse to take part and who are found guilty are automatically given a 28 day custodial sentence. In its twelve months of operation, there have been only six or seven referrals by magistrates, but it appears there have been a number of recent referrals in both urban and remote Aboriginal communities (Tom Stodulka, NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, personal communication 25 August 2000).

In early 2000, the Federal Government promised funds for the establishment of a pre-court restorative conferencing program and, after some initial delays, approval for some funding has recently been given by the Federal Attorney-General. Responsibility for the setting up and running of this program is in the hands of the Northern Territory Police. The program is already running to a limited extent, but the intention is to train 50-60 police officers before the end of 2000 so that the program can get underway Territory-wide early in 2001. Legislation governing the program is being prepared and the intention is that it will be put before the NT Legislative Assembly in November.

There is as yet no documentation on the intended operation of the program, but Superintendent Graham Waite, who is responsible for implementing the program, has provided some information about what is intended (personal communication 20 September 2000). The following is based on his comments:

The program will be for juveniles aged 10-17 Territory-wide and there will be flexible criteria for eligibility. There will continue to be warnings and cautions for less serious offences, while serious violent offences will be excluded from the program. For minor-middle range offences, conferencing will be the normal disposition as long as the offender and the family agree. The intention is for victims to attend wherever possible, but their absence would not preclude a conference with the offender and extended family. The apprehending police officer will have a great deal of discretion in deciding to recommend a conference, bearing in mind the age and circumstances of the offender, prior offending and the seriousness of the offence. There will not be a victim veto on holding a conference, nor will it be essential for full admissions to be made: for example, if there is overwhelming evidence of responsibility for the offence but the police are aware of circumstances which make the offender reluctant to make admissions, then a conference may still be offered. Superintendent Waite emphasised that the process of holding a conference ought always to be a consensual one and at the forefront of consideration by the apprehending officer should be to divert from court wherever possible.

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