About restorative justice conferences
Restorative justice conferencing is a justice process used as a response to offences committed by a child. Similar conferences are run for adults who have been charged with or convicted of some offences.
Restorative justice is an internationally recognised evidence-based response to criminal behaviour. It views a criminal offence as more than an act of breaking the law and examines the impact on society; the harm caused to the victim, family relationships and the community.
We are using restorative justice processes to reduce an overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the justice system by diverting children from court to restorative justice conferences.
The restorative justice process requires effort and participation from the child, which differs from traditional justice responses. It has proven that it is an effective strategy to reduce reoffending.
A restorative justice conference is a meeting between a child who has committed a crime and the people most affected by that crime to discuss:
- what happened
- the effects of the offence
- repairing the harm caused to the victim.
The conference provides a safe environment for everyone involved in a crime to talk about what happened and what needs to happen to start making things right.
The conference gives victims the opportunity to talk about the harm caused by the offence and have their questions about the offence answered by the child responsible. The child has the chance to take responsibility and begin to understand the harm their actions have caused.
The child, victim and their support people have the chance to determine an achievable outcome for the child to help make things right in a way that is meaningful to the victim.
People at the conference
The convenor of the conference is a neutral facilitator who organises the meeting and prepares participants for the meeting. The convenor will always be at the conference, along with the child and someone to support them.
The victim of the offence has a right to attend with someone to support them. It is not compulsory for the victim to attend a conference.
Other people who may attend include :
- other people from the victim or child’s family or community of care to support the child and the victim
- representatives on behalf of the victim
- a police officer
- legal representatives for the child and the victim (if they wish)
- a person from an organisation that provides community support
- a well-respected member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as identified by the child. This may include members of
- the local Elders
- a community justice group
- their immediate and/or extended family.
Before the conference
The convenor meets with each participant beforehand to answer any questions and discuss the conference, including:
- the process
- who else will be present
- what that person may want to share
- what might happen.
At the conference
The convenor helps everyone talk about what happened, how they were affected and how they feel about it.
The convenor then facilitates the negotiation of an outcome between the participants. Remaining impartial, the convenor helps the participants determine an outcome that:
- meets the needs of the victim
- is achievable
- is legal
- can help to start repairing the harm caused by the child’s behaviour.
This generally includes things the child can do to help start making things better and prevent the offending behaviour from happening again.
If the victim and child reach a conclusion, they sign an agreement that becomes legally binding and lists what the child has agreed to do. A conference usually takes 2 hours.
After the conference
If the conference has reached an agreement, the child must then do the agreed tasks. If the child fails to comply, further action may be taken against them.
Why conferencing is an effective justice process
Restorative justice conferencing is effective because:
- victims can ask questions and start to move forward with the recovery process
- the child who has committed the offence can begin to understand the impact of their actions
- the child must complete all parts of the agreement.
The vast majority of victims who have participated in a restorative justice conference have said they would recommend the process to other victims.
Comments from former participants
It was very helpful to figure all of this out the easy way.
Victim, 14 years, April 2016
It was very hard but I feel that some progress was made due to this process. The convenors provided us with a lot of support before and during the conference.
Victim of a serious offence, 29 years, February 2015
Conferences are a good diversion option to help juvenile offenders who may need help as well.
Police officer, June 2016
Very helpful experience for all of us—so grateful to have had this opportunity. Kind but firm professionals guided us through this process. Issues became a lot clearer. Knowing how people are affected was realised. The gravity of the situation was acknowledged.
Support person for child who committed an offence, 45 years, April 2016
This conference has helped me to see the victim’s side of things—a weight off my shoulders.
Child who committed an offence, 15 years, June 2016