“It was like a wake-up call for me that I had to change, I needed to stop doing bad stuff and concentrate on my future,” said Billy*. He had taken part in Jesuit Social Services’ Youth Justice Group Conference program. The process encouraged him to take responsibility and to make amends for his offending.

After moving to Darwin with his step-uncle and being suspended from school, Billy got involved with an older group of young people and drinking.

One day when he was drinking with them, they decided to break into a house. While they were fleeing with a bike, computer and alcohol, the homeowner Rick* came home. In his attempt to escape, Billy assaulted him before jumping the back fence and running off. Later that evening he was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery.

Since Billy had little contact with the youth justice system, the Darwin Supreme Court made a referral for him to take part in a Youth Justice Group Conference. The court hoped this would help him to better understand the consequences of his actions on Rick, his family and his community, as well as to address some of the harm caused by the violent robbery.

Jesuit Social Services delivers Youth Justice Group Conferencing in the Northern Territory and Victoria. Each group conference is led by an independent convenor.

“By bringing people together in a Group Conference, we talk about what has happened, to help put things right and move forward,” explains Clare Horsfall, Senior Manager, Northern Territory.

We see how young people come away with a deeper understanding of the harm they have caused and practical steps to avoid future offending.

Clare Horsfall

Senior Manager, Northern Territory

Rick declined to participate in the Group Conference and instead submitted a victim impact statement. As part of the Group Conference, a Victims of Crime Northern Territory representative used Rick’s words from a victim impact statement, sharing how the robbery and assault had affected him, the distress he and his family had suffered, and how they no longer felt safe in their home.

Billy hadn’t realised the extent of the harm he had caused Rick and his entire family. Billy’s lawyer shared the distress and regret Billy had been feeling since the offence and how he did not want to end up in jail. He has now seen what impact his behaviour had on people.

At the end of the two-hour Group Conference, a plan was made. Billy wrote an apology letter to Rick. The group also agreed that Billy would benefit from having positive role models. He was connected with a local community mentoring group, and a youth arts program to help foster healthy friendships. Rick was told of the positive actions Billy had agreed to take to avoid getting in to trouble again.

Our Group Conferencing program is a way of doing things differently, We need a justice system that has opportunities for young people to take responsibility but to also learn from their past mistakes.

Clare Horsfall

Senior Manager, Northern Territory

* We changed Billy’s and Rick’s names to protect their identities.