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South Australia Juvenile Justice (SAJJ) Project on Conferencing


The South Australia Juvenile Justice (SAJJ, pronounced "sage") Project studied the ways in which conferences vary in "restorativeness" and "democratic process" for participants. Conference practices in South Australia utilise the New Zealand model of non-police run conferences in a state where conferencing is legislatively based.

SAJJ was funded by a $120,000 grant from the Australian Research Council to gather and analyse data on conferencing in South Australia during 1998-99. The Project Director was Kathleen Daly, Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Brisbane. As a Senior Fulbright Scholar, Daly was based at the Australian National University during 1995-96, where she spent considerable time with the RISE project team and became familiar with the design and implementation of RISE. She visited South Australia in 1995 and began to establish ongoing research relationships with members of the Family Conference Team.

Drawing from research on restorative and procedural justice, the SAJJ project posed these questions:

  1. Are two dimensions of restorative justice, namely, restorativenesss for victims and offenders, and democratic process in group decision-making, present in conferences?
  2. Do judgments of restorativeness and democratic process vary by participants' roles (coordinator, police officer, victim, and young person/offender), participants' social locations (age, gender, race-ethnicity), context (urban/rural), the kind of harm (violent or property, personal or organisational)?
  3. Does it matter that a conference is "successful" (or not) for the future behaviour or well-being of offenders and victims?

The focus of the SAJJ project was on ways of measuring (1) restorative justice practices and (2) variability in the conference process and participants' understandings of it. While many people assume that a "successful" conference will have positive future effects, the SAJJ project treated this as an open question.

SAJJ had two waves of data collection, in 1998 and 1999. In 1998 (Year 1), the SAJJ research group observed a total of 89 SAJJ-eligible conferences, which were held during a 12-week period in the metropolitan Adelaide area and in two country towns about a 4-hour drive north of the city. The observed conferences were selected on the basis of the offence category. SAJJ-eligible offences were personal crimes of violence and property offences that involved personal victims or "community victims" (such as schools, churches or housing trusts). Excluded were shoplifting cases, drug cases, and public order offences.

For each conference, the police officer and the coordinator completed a self-administered survey on their judgments of what occurred at the conference, and a SAJJ researcher completed a detailed observational instrument. The 89 conferences had a total of 107 young people (offenders) and 89 primary victims. In Year 1, the project aimed to interview all the 196 offenders and primary victims following the conference. Completed interviews were obtained for 93 offenders (87 percent) and 79 victims (89 percent). In 1999 (Year 2), the project aimed to interview all the young people and victims who had been interviewed in Year 1. Completed interviews were obtained for 88 of the 93 offenders (95 percent) and 73 of the 79 victims (92 percent). Thus, completed interviews were obtained in both years for 82 percent of victims and offenders. The average time between the conference and first interview was about one month, and the average time between the interview in year 1 and 2 was one year.

The interview schedules in 1998 and 1999 had open- and close-ended items. All the interviews were conducted face to face, except those with victims who did not attend the conference, which were conducted by phone. For the offenders, the average length of the interview was 35 to 45 minutes; for the victims who attended the conference, it was longer, about 50 to 65 minutes. The interviews were tape-recorded and the open-ended questions were transcribed.

In 1998, the focus of the interviews was on the offenders' and victims' judgments of whether elements of procedural and restorative justice were present in the conference. In 1999, the focus was on how the passage of time affected offenders' and victims' judgments of the process and of promises made; whether victims and offenders changed their attitudes toward the other; whether or not the conference had an impact on "staying out of trouble" (for offenders) or on "getting the offence behind them" (for victims); and for victims, how their experience in the conference process affected (or not) their views of young people and the politics of crime control. To analyse the relationship of conferencing to re-offending, data were gathered on the young person's contacts with the police before the incident that led to the SAJJ conference, and for two windows of time following the SAJJ conference: 8 to 12 months and 32 to 36 months.

SAJJ technical report no. 1 sets forth the research design, sampling strategy, and implementation of the project in Year 1. It presents the six research instruments used in Year 1 and how they were constructed. SAJJ technical report no. 2 describes features of the SAJJ sample of conferences and people interviewed, updating and amending preliminary material presented in Report no. 1. It presents the six research instruments used in Year 2, discussing the source and rationale of question items. Those intending to conduct research on conferencing may find these reports helpful in the planning and execution of their projects.