Juvenile Re-Offending after Family and Victim Offender Conferences
The Northern Territory police force administrated the scheme with two juvenile diversion units located in the population centers of Darwin and Alice Springs. For smaller communities, the officer in charge of the local police department was charged with oversight, receiving support from either Darwin or Alice Springs. In the most remote areas, Indigenous Community Police Officers were involved in the programme, especially in helping the community understand the goals of pre-court diversion.
The Juvenile Pre-court Diversion Scheme had two stated goals:
- To provide and maintain an effective alternative to the prosecution and sentencing of young offenders in the formal justice system.
- To encourage young offenders to be responsible members of the community by providing opportunities for positive behavioural change and improvement in life skills through diversion activities.
This study investigated the re-offending rates of the 3,597 young offenders apprehended in the Northern Territory from August 2000 to August 2005. Data was retrieved from the Police Online Management Information System. No personal contact was made with the offenders; only the arrest record was considered in making the following analysis.
Measurement of variables
Previous research has found that factors such as age at first conviction, gender and Indigenous status have a major effect on the offending behaviour of juveniles. In addition to those demographic variables, this study also considered geographic location and variables related to the offence: the type and seriousness of the offence, the date of the apprehension and commencement of the diversion, the type of diversion and whether the diversion was successfully completed.
Two thirds (67%) of juveniles did not re-offend. Of those who did, by far the greater percentage were males rather than females (38%, 19% respectively). Also, nearly twice as many Indigenous than non-Indigenous juveniles re-offended (40% and 22% respectively). A greater percentage of juveniles aged 14 years or less at the time of their first apprehension re-offended than did those aged 15-17 years at their first apprehension (41% and 28% respectively).
In relation to location of the apprehension, juveniles in the Darwin region re-offended less (29%) than those in regional centres (35%) or in communities, where the rate of re-offending was highest (37%).
Re-offending by offence category was highest for offences such as drug and public order offences (38%), and lowest for traffic offences (21%). Around one third of juveniles who had been apprehended for property offences and offences against the person re-offended (35% and 33% respectively).
Half of Indigenous males who had appeared in court, or who had received a warning, re-offended (51% and 50% respectively), compared with 42% who had attended a conference. Of non-Indigenous males, one third (33%) of those who had attended court re-offended, compared with only 23% who had attended a conference.
Therefore for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous males conferencing had a more positive impact on re-offending behaviour than court attendance.
In relation to Indigenous females, diversion also had a more positive impact than court. Over one third (36%) of those who attended court re-offended compared with only around 20% who had either received a warning or attended a conference (23% and 21% respectively).
The analysis for each group of offenders, whether male or female, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, showed that conferences resulted in the lowest percentage of re-offending. This finding has important implications for the types of diversion which need to be offered and in recognising the importance of the family, and ultimately the community, in supporting and encouraging positive relationships between offenders, victims and community members.
The complete study: 'Restorative Justice and Its Impact on the Re-offending of Juveniles in Regional and Remote Australia: A Northern Territory Perspective," by Teresa Cunningham is available below.