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CRC funded reports

Victoria

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

Characteristics of the Program

In 1995 the Juvenile Justice Group Conferencing Pilot Program was established under the auspices of Anglicare (Victoria). The program is not legislatively based and relies on the existing provisions of the Children's and Young Persons Act 1989. It operates from the Melbourne Children's Court only and is modelled on the New Zealand family group conferencing program. However, the program as applied in Victoria comes from an alternate dispute resolution model, and is not drawn from a restorative justice philosophy.

Participants are juveniles who have admitted their offence, who would otherwise go to court and who are likely to be given a Supervisory Order. A key feature is that the process is not used in minor or trivial matters; it is an attempt by the Court to deal effectively with young offenders at risk of progressing through the justice system.

The aim of the program is to address the offending behaviour by utilising the resources of the family and significant others, and empowering them in the decision-making process. Those attending the conference are the offender, their family, the police, legal representatives and community members. Victims may also attend, though it is possible for the conference to proceed without them, or with someone attending on their behalf. They develop a plan with the purpose of assisting the young person in avoiding further offending.

Originally the program aimed to target approximately 100 young offenders every year but has never achieved this scale; for example, in the first two years of operation, 40 conferences were held involving 42 young people (Markiewicz 1997a).

Implementation and administration

The pilot program is a joint venture of Anglicare, the Children's Court of Victoria, Victoria Police, Victoria Legal Aid and the Department of Human Services. These agencies and the Department of Justice are represented on a Steering Committee. The Project has received funding from the Buckland Foundation, the Department of Justice's Crime Prevention and Victims' Aid Fund and the Department of Human Services.

A range of possible diversion programs are currently being examined by Victoria's Departments of Justice and Human Services in line with the policy directions of the Bracks government.

Evaluation

Three evaluation reports of the pilot program have been conducted by independent consultants. The first (Markiewicz 1997a) related to its first two years of operation. It found that in the 40 conferences conducted in this period, outcome plans had been fully implemented in just over half of them. The second, published later the same year (Markiewicz 1997b), analysed a further 19 cases. Little difference in outcomes on reoffending were found between the conference group and a probation group comparison (though numbers were too small to test this scientifically). Ninety percent of plans were fully or partially completed.

The third evaluation was published in 1999 (Success Works Pty Ltd). It found that comparative recidivism rates for 71 conference participants and a matched probation group were similar and that the costs of the two programs were about the same (approximately $3000 per case). It also found that courts appreciated the additional option of the conference alternative and that the program appeared to have positive benefits for young people, families and victims. It recommended that conferencing be moved beyond that of a small localised project to become State-wide and that it continue to be auspiced by a non-government organisation to ensure the maintenance of strong community input.

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