Therapeutic jurisprudence, restorative justice and brushfire arson
Mar 31, 2010
Last Thursday and Friday at the Monash University Conference Centre in Melbourne I took part in a symposium organised by Monash Sustainability Institute, the Australian Institute of Criminology and others about preventing bush fires....
A key feature of the symposium was its multi-disciplinary approach – professionals from the fire services, police, psychology, corrections, criminology and the law explored the different aspects of the motivations behind, detection and investigations into and prosecution and sentencing in relation to bush fire arson. Identifying potential arsonists and greater community education were other matters considered at the symposium.
.... It is simply not viable to set up a problem-solving court specialising in arson offenders. The numbers do not justify it. For example, over a five year period from 2003-2004 until 2007-2008 there were only 237 people dealt with for arson (structural and bushfire arson) in Victoria. But elements of a problem-solving court program could be used in a mainstream court in relation to suitable arson offenders whose offending does not deserve an immediate prison term. Thus sentencing could be deferred while they undergo treatment with regular court appearances, judicial case management, a multi-disciplinary approach etc, provided community treatment and support services are available and a coordinating mechanism is provided whereby reports as to compliance are provided to the court and any remedial steps implemented. Another option is to have offenders participate in a re-entry court program towards the end of their sentence – in a similar manner to the Compulsory Drug Treatment Centre in New South Wales.
Restorative justice conferences have been used in relation to arson offences. This is an option that could be more widely used in conjunction with traditional court processes or, in appropriate cases, in substitution for court processes. Thus, less serious cases of fire-related offences are dealt with in restorative justice style conferences in juvenile justice cases. RJ processes promote the voice, validation and respect of victims, perpetrators and communities. They provide a mechanism for the parties to receive more information about the offence and its effects on those involved. It can promote apology, forgiveness and healing. It provides a mechanism for victims to be heard and for fire starters to hear about the effects of their actions. It also allows for reparation to be offered and made.
Naturally such cases need to be properly screened. Some fire starters enjoy seeing the effects of their actions and their participation in a conference may produce further trauma for victims. Some victims take their own approach to healing and wish to move on with their lives without engaging with perpetrators. Perhaps conferences which would be the most effective would be those where the perpetrators of arson acted out of a desire for revenge or for other purposes – such as for financial gain - rather than where mental illness was involved.