Youth Justice Group Conferencing creates dialogue between young people who have offended and people who have been impacted by the offending behaviour. Grounded in principles of restorative justice, the program enables young people to make amends for harm caused and to restore their relationships with their community.
How does this program help?
The court and prison systems aren’t effective at holding young people to account for their actions or preventing further offending: up to 80 per cent of young people will reoffend within two years of leaving detention, and involvement with the justice system can be harmful and traumatic.
Youth Justice Group Conferencing provides an effective problem-solving approach that balances the needs of offenders, victims and the community – ensuring young people are held accountable for their actions, without further entrenching them in the cycle of offending.
Youth Justice Group Conferencing aims to divert young people away from further or more serious offending. It brings together those involved with or affected by offending behaviour to discuss how the young person can make amends for the harm done. In the process, the program helps young people see the impact of their actions on victims of crime, and supports them to restore relationships with those they’ve harmed.
How does the program work?
1. We create a safe environment for the group to meet
Our group convenor provides a safe environment for everyone involved and affected by an offence to come together.
Before the conference
Before the conference, the convenor identifies and prepares people for the conference, including:
- The young person, their immediate and extended family and supports
- The victim, or a representative, and their family and supports
- A legal representative
- A police informant, and
- Community members.
The convenor also help participants agree on an outcome plan, which sets out what the young person will do to make amends for their offending, and how they will prevent re-offending.
This lead-up phase can take up to 6-8 weeks to complete.
During the conference
The convenor facilitates the group conference to ensure all participants’ voices are heard.
The group conference normally takes about two hours.
2. We enable dialogue between people affected by the offence
The dialogue in a group conference is controlled and structured. It allows those affected by the crime to:
- Face the young person
- Talk about what happened
- Discuss how they were affected
- Ask the young person questions about the offence, and
- Decide how to make things better.
Victims take an active role in the dialogue. They contribute to a discussion about what the young person should do to make amends for their offending and to avoid re-offending.
Offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, and raise their understanding of the impact of their offending on the victim.
3. We help prevent young people re-offending
Youth Justice Group Conferencing provides the Children’s Court with an alternative pre-sentencing option that aims to divert young people from further or more serious offending.
The program intervenes before a young person receives a sentence, in order to:
- Divert the young person from more intensive supervisory court outcomes
- Reduce frequency and seriousness of re-offending of young people referred to the program
- Increase victim satisfaction with the criminal justice process, and
- Effectively integrate young people into the community following the conference process.
Who can participate?
Youth Justice Group Conferencing is available to young people aged 10–17 years at the time of offending, who have:
- Pleaded guilty, or have been found guilty of, an offence or offences
- Committed offences serious enough to warrant an order or a custodial sentence
- Consented to participate, and
- Been assessed as a suitable participant.
Where is it offered?
Jesuit Social Services delivers Youth Justice Group Conferencing throughout Melbourne, Victoria, and in Darwin, Palmerston and Katherine in the Northern Territory.
How does someone make a referral?
A magistrate in any of Victoria’s Children’s Courts can refer a young person to Youth Justice Group Conferencing, under section 414 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
Prior to referral, the Magistrate arranges a Youth Justice Court Advice Worker to assess a young person’s suitability for the program.
A young person’s suitability is based on their:
- Acceptance of their role in offence
- Level of remorse
- Victim awareness, including level of empathy toward the victim
- Safety and/or special needs, including intellectual functioning, substance abuse and cultural values, and
- Interpersonal skills, and how these effect their participation in the group conference.
In the Northern Territory
A judge in any of the Northern Territory’s Children’s Courts can refer a young person to Pre-Sentence Conferencing, under section 84 of the Youth Justice Act.
A referral is made after a court has found a young person guilty of an offence, and the referral can be made on the application of the young person or on the Court’s initiative.