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CRC funded reports

Western Australia

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

Characteristics of the Program

In 1993, following consultation between justice, police, education and welfare agencies and the Aboriginal community, two pilot Juvenile Justice Teams were established in Western Australia, in each of Fremantle and Perth. These were modelled on the New Zealand conferencing program with the restorative aims of involving victims, empowering parents and making young people more accountable for their actions. In 1995, with the proclamation of the Young Offenders Act 1994 (see Appendix), Western Australia formally enacted conferencing for juvenile offenders aged 10-17 as a second tier between cautioning and court and teams were established State-wide.

Under the provisions of the Act, an offender who 'accepts responsibility for the act or omission constituting the offence' (S25(4)) may be referred to a Juvenile Justice Team by the police, the prosecutor or the court. About 65 percent of cases have been pre-court police referrals and the remainder from the Children's Court (Cant et al n.d.). The teams consist of a conference coordinator employed by the Ministry of Justice, a police officer, a representative of the Ministry of Education (when required) and, where the offender is of an ethnic or other minority group, a person nominated by members of that group, together with anyone else whom the coordinator wishes to invite. In the Perth metropolitan area there are seven full-time teams and there are 16 country sites where Teams can operate as well. In the metropolitan area, juvenile justice officers and police officers are assigned to work solely in the Teams. However, in regional areas, local juvenile justice and police officers establish Team meetings as and when required: they are not specialist Team officers, but generic field officers and operational police and come together when there is a referral to a Team. There is one full-time Aboriginal coordinator and each team is assisted by a part-time Aboriginal support worker.

The program tends to be used for first or early offenders and minor offences such as simple assault, stealing and burglary: driving offences and most serious violent and sexual crimes are excluded. However, there is work being done on expanding the role of teams to deal with more serious offences and more persistent offenders (email communication, Bill Williamson, Manager, Juvenile Justice Teams). In 1997-8 there were about 2,800 referrals to conferences by police and the Children's Court in the Perth metropolitan area, about 84 percent of which were accepted: it appears that almost half of these matters were dealt with simply between the team and the offender, while the remainder were more formally constituted conferences (Daly et al 1998). In 1998-9 about 15 percent of all juvenile matters in the Children's Court relating to burglary, theft, car theft and simple assault cases were dealt with by the Teams: a small proportion (six percent) of sexual assault matters were also referred to the Teams .

Those attending the conference, besides the team and the offender, must include 'a responsible adult', usually a parent or other relative (unless the offender is assessed as an independent person, in which case a person is appointed to that role by the team). The victim is invited to make submissions or otherwise participate as they wish; if they attend they have a power of veto over the outcome, which must be agreed by all those in attendance.

Implementation and administration

The Juvenile Justice Teams operate in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, police service and the Education Department.

Evaluation

In 1994 an evaluation of the two pilot programs was undertaken (Ministry of Justice 1994). There was some costing analysis of the two programs: each of them was estimated at $130,000 per annum, including the salary of the coordinators and a full time Aboriginal representative but excluding costs connected with the Ministry of Education officer and the police officer. The evaluation was largely qualitative, with views sought from offenders, offenders' parents, victims, referring police, Aboriginal organisations, members of the judiciary and team members and overall a high level of satisfaction was expressed.

In 1998, Cant and Downey undertook an evaluation study of the operation of the Young Offenders Act 1994, including the Juvenile Justice Teams. They found that about 95 percent of offenders successfully completed the outcome agreed at the conference and that there were very high rates of satisfaction on the part of offenders, offenders' parents and victims. However, they commented that some of the offences dealt with were minor enough to have been dealt with by a caution in the first instance and that there was also evidence that cases that might have been dealt with by Teams were being sent to Children's Court (Cant & Downey 1998, p iv). They also reported concerns by the Aboriginal Justice Council and Aboriginal Affairs Department about relatively low referral rates of Aboriginal juveniles to the Teams (16 percent in the metropolitan area, though as high as 50 percent in some country areas), considering their over-representation in the justice system, possibly owing to the exclusion of young people with minor histories of misdemeanours (p v).

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