Re-evaluation of Forum Sentencing

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Release date: 2 September 2013, Monday 9.30am

New research released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found no evidence thatForum Sentencing reduces the risk of re-offending.

Forum sentencing was introduced in 2005 as an alternative to custody for young adult offenders. It is a restorative justice-based scheme, similar to Youth Justice Conferencing, in which the offender, victim and others affected by a crime come together to discuss its impact on the individuals involved.

As part of the process, an intervention plan is developed by the forum participants which attempts to repair the damage done by the offence and, if accepted by the court, is completed as part of the offender's sentence.

This is the third evaluation of Forum sentencing conducted by the Bureau. The first, in 2007, found high levels of satisfaction with the program among participating victims and offenders.

The second, in 2009, looked at re-offending but found no evidence that Forum Sentencing reduced the likelihood of a further offence, the number of further offences, the time to the next offence or the seriousness of any further offence.

Following these evaluations the Forum Sentencing program was modified and extended to other areas in NSW.

The modifications included: making 'reducing re-offending' an explicit aim of Forum Sentencing, removing the age limit of the program and excluding certain driving offences from the eligibility criteria.

In 2010 changes were also made to ensure that victims' wishes are communicated to the court and are considered when determining whether to make a forum participation order.

Earlier this year, the Bureau re-evaluated the effect of the program on re-offending. The evaluation compared reconviction rates among 552 offenders referred to Forum Sentencing and 552 offenders dealt with in a conventional court proceeding.

The two groups of offenders were carefully matched on a large number of factors that affect both the choice of sanction and re-offending.

No significant difference between the two groups in the proportion re-offending was found.

The director of the Bureau said the findings were not surprising. 'Although restorative justice programs are generally well liked by those who participate in them, there is not much hard evidence that they reduce re-offending', he said.

Further enquiries:Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190
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