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Promising results from pre-court diversion scheme in the Northern Territory

Media Release

25 July 2007

An evaluation of the juvenile pre-court diversion scheme introduced in the Northern Territory in 2000 that uses warnings and conferences to divert selected juveniles from the court process has found significant differences in the reoffending patterns between juveniles who attended court and those who were diverted from the court process:

  • Males who received a diversion were 44 percent less likely to reoffend than those who went to court
  • Females who were diverted were more than twice as likely (57%) not to have reoffended as those who made a court appearance.

The scheme gives police powers to divert juvenile offenders away from the court process. Offences classified as minor received either a verbal or written warning and more serious offences were dealt with through family conferences and victim offender conferences. Certain offences such as murder, manslaughter and serious physical assault were excluded from diversion. The offender has the option to decline diversion and go to court.

Data were taken from police records of 3,597 juveniles who had been apprehended by the police between August 2000 and August 2005 and found significant differences in offending related to age, gender, Indigenous status and location. Fifty-nine percent of offenders were Indigenous and Indigenous juveniles were almost twice as likely to reoffend than non-Indigenous juveniles within 12 months.

'Given the level of over-representation of young Indigenous males in the criminal justice system, particular care should be taken to address the needs of this group', Dr Makkai said.

The paper also found that juveniles in regional or Indigenous communities had higher probabilities of re-offending regardless of whether they were diverted or went to court. However those who were diverted in those communities had better outcomes than if they went to court.

'Juveniles who are sent to court reoffend more frequently and more quickly, which could reflect the more serious nature of their offending and prior criminal record', Dr Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, said in releasing the findings. She said, 'This particular finding suggests that the court process alone does not seem to deter persistent offending'.

Dr Makkai said, 'This study highlights the need for long term evaluations of criminal justice interventions to better understand what works, what doesn't and what looks promising in dealing with juvenile offenders'.