Evaluation of Forum Sentencing

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Release date: 13 August 2009

New research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that offenders dealt with under the Forum Sentencing scheme are no less likely to re-offend than offenders dealt with in a conventional court proceeding.

The Forum Sentencing scheme (formerly known as the Community Conferencing for Young Adults Pilot Program) commenced in September 2005 at two sites (Liverpool and a court circuit on the north coast encompassing Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Mullumbimby Local Courts).

As with Youth Justice Conferencing, offenders dealt with in the Forum Sentencing scheme attend a conference where the victim and the victim's support people discuss the offence, its impact on the victim and what the offender might do by way of recompense. This recompense can take a number of forms, including an apology, financial reparation to the victim or community work.

Earlier research by the Bureau had shown that victims who participate in the Forum Sentencing scheme are generally very satisfied with the process.

In this second phase of the evaluation, the Bureau compared 264 offenders dealt with by way of a Forum Sentencing Order with a matched comparison group of offenders dealt with in the Local Courts in order to find out whether Forum Sentencing reduced:

1. The likelihood of re-offending
2. The frequency of re-offending
3. The time to re-offend
4. The seriousness of re-offending

No evidence emerged from the analyses to suggest that Forum Sentencing participants were less likely to re-offend; committed fewer offences; took longer to offend; or committed less serious offences if they re-offended.

Commenting on the findings the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that, despite the popularity of restorative justice programs, evidence for their effectiveness in reducing recidivism is limited.

"Many of the individuals referred to Forum Sentencing have substantial criminal records, dating back in many cases to their teenage years".

"Entrenched patterns of criminal behaviour are difficult to change without a sustained effort to alter the factors that keep them involved in crime. A program like Forum Sentencing may work more effectively with offenders that do not have substantial criminal records".

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn, 9231-9190, 0419-494-408