Evaluation of Adult Conferencing Pilot Program

 

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Release date:11 September 2007, Embargo: 11.00am

A pilot program designed to divert young adult offenders (aged between 18 and 25) convicted of non-violent offences to a conference has produced mixed results, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The pilot program began operation in September 2005 in Liverpool, Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Mullumbimby. It enables magistrates to refer young offenders to a conference rather than imprisoning them. The purpose of the conference is to give the offender an opportunity to apologise to the victim, explain the reasons for his/her offence(s) and make some form of restitution to the victim and/or the community.

The Bureau found that victims who participated in conferences were overwhelmingly satisfied with the way their case was dealt with and with the intervention plans agreed to at the conference. Ninety-three per cent of victims said they were treated with respect at the conference. Ninety-one per cent said they were satisfied with the intervention plan (restitution) and that the outcome was fair to them.

Contrary to expectations, however, the program had no effect on the number of offenders sent to prison. Moreover, a large percentage of offences dealt with at conferences did not involve a direct victim - they were either traffic/driving offences (46.4%) or drug-related offences (4.3%).

Re-offending rates among those who attended the program were very low. Of the offenders who attended a conference in Liverpool or Tweed Heads, only 4.4 per cent were charged with another offence after the date of their conference. This small figure, however, is almost certainly due to the very short follow-up period (an average of 4.8 months) rather than to the conference program itself.

Police involved in the program were divided in their views about its merits. The Bureau found that the majority of police officers from Liverpool did not support the conferencing program, however most of the remaining stakeholders (e.g. magistrates, conference facilitators, other police) were of the opinion that the conferencing program is effective and operating well.

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