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CRC funded reports

Tasmania

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

Characteristics of the Program

In 1995 Tasmania Police adopted a conferencing program on the 'Wagga' model and 30 police officers were trained as facilitators; since then, a further 60 officers have been trained State-wide. Police conferencing, in the guise of a formal caution, has continued under the new Youth Justice Act 1997 (see Appendix), which was proclaimed in February 2000. Although the legislation provides for the familiar three-tier juvenile justice system found also in New South Wales and South Australia (caution, conferencing, court), in practice the formal caution acts as a fourth tier. Under the new Act, a formal caution involves inviting the victim to attend; the police conference facilitator may seek on the victim's behalf costs, financial restitution, restitution consisting of up to 35 hours' work for the victim and an apology. Other outcomes may concern referral to developmental, drug or alcohol programs or anything else considered appropriate, but outcomes from a formal caution are not enforceable under the Act.

However, a primary purpose of the Act is to provide for a new community conferencing program. This is a pre-court diversion, referred by police, and is for offenders aged 10-17 who admit their offence. Offences excluded from conferencing are traffic offences, serious violence, sexual offences and dangerous weapons offences. As well as referral by police, the Act allows for court referral of young people found guilty of an offence.

The underlying principles are described in Section 5(1) of the Act; they mainly concern the need for the youth to accept responsibility for their behaviour and for victims and families to be involved in the process and outcome. Punishment is to be appropriate to age, maturity, cultural identify and to previous offending history, with the objective of developing a sense of social responsibility. The Act signifies a shift away from the welfare ideology that informed the previous system of juvenile justice: the new system deliberately separates youth crime from youth welfare.

Those who may attend the conference are the offender, the guardians and relatives of the offender, the victim and supporters, a police officer and anyone else whom the conference facilitator believes may be able to participate usefully. If the victim chooses not to attend, he or she must be asked whether they wish to be informed of the outcome.

A conference outcome may include a formal caution, an undertaking to pay compensation or make restitution, to undertake to perform up to 70 hours of community service, to apologise or anything else considered appropriate. The outcome should be arrived at by consensus, but at a minimum the offender, the police officer and the victim (if present) must agree. If no agreement is reached or the offender fails to comply with undertakings, the police officer may put the case before the court.

Implementation and administration

The new conferencing program is the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services. The 'old' program continues within the police service. There is considerable variability across the State in the pick-up rate for the new program, as well as for the continuing formal caution/police conference arrangement. As a guide, in the Eastern District which comprises about one quarter of Tasmania's population and deals with around 400 juvenile cases annually, over the past year almost two-thirds were dealt with by a formal caution, around 20 percent went to court, 15 percent to an informal caution, and seven percent to a conference (email communication, Sergeant John Lennox, Tasmania Police).

Evaluation

An evaluation of the conferencing program is being undertaken at the University of Tasmania Law School. The research aims of the study are to examine the use of conferencing within the juvenile justice system and its effectiveness as a diversionary mechanism, the extent to which the program applies principles of restorative justice, and the capacity of the police and responsible agency to execute the objectives of the Act. No report is yet available.

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