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Issued: Friday, 14 November 2014
The Parramatta Children's Court will begin trialling a dedicated court for young Aboriginal offenders in January next year to encourage them to turn their lives around.
The Youth Koori Court will provide greater Aboriginal involvement in the court process ensuring it's culturally relevant, reduces the risk factors that impact on re-offending behaviour and ultimately reduces the number of young people being sentenced to a period of detention.
Executive Officer of the Children's Court Rosemary Davidson said the Youth Koori Court is a significant justice initiative.
"Reducing the over representation of Aboriginal young people in the criminal justice system is going to require a multi-faceted approach over a sustained period," she said.
"However, the way a court deals with a case can make a real difference to how our clients perceive justice to work."
"The Youth Koori Court process will allow the court to improve the way it connects with a young person so it can find out what's really happening in their life which is causing them to commit crimes.
"This will enable the court to develop a plan that links young Aboriginal offenders to services that address these issues.
"Establishing positive connections with culture and community is important in a young person's development and the involvement of Aboriginal Elders will play a vital part in the process."
"Elders will be able to provide a unique perspective. It is hoped this perspective will challenge the young person's view of the impact of their criminal behaviour and provide motivation for them to take a different path."
By the age of 23, more than three quarters of the NSW Indigenous population has been cautioned by police, referred to a Youth Justice Conference or convicted of an offence in a NSW criminal court.
The NSW Youth Koori Court adopts some features of the Circle Sentencing program that exists for adult Aboriginal offenders in NSW and the Children's Koori Court in Victoria.
However, this new model will focus on addressing the needs of the young person with a view to addressing the underlying causes of criminal behaviour as early as possible before it becomes entrenched.
In Victoria, the Children's Koori Court has been operating since 2005 and has helped hundreds of Aboriginal youth get their lives back on track.
The Youth Koori Court will be trialled over a 12 month period and could be introduced in other locations if the program is successful.
Young Aboriginal offenders under 19 who have been found guilty of committing a criminal offence at the Parramatta Children's Court will be eligible for the program.
Unlike a mainstream court, the Koori Court is more informal with everyone sitting around a table talking 'plain' English rather than using technical legal jargon.
An Elder will sit with the judicial officer to provide cultural advice about the Aboriginal offender. The Elders may talk directly to the young person about their circumstances and why they are in court.
Before being sentenced by the magistrate or judge, an informal conference will be facilitated by a Children's Registrar with input from the young person, their family, Elders and staff from both government and non-government agencies.
A plan will be developed at this meeting to help reduce the likelihood of re-offending including strategies to improve cultural connections, encourage the offender to stay at school or get work, secure stable accommodation and address any health, drug or alcohol issues.
If the magistrate or judge approves the plan, the Aboriginal young person will have six months to comply with the program and achieve their goals before being sentenced. At the end of this period, the judicial officer will determine the sentence after considering the work that has been undertaken by the young person to address their criminogenic risk factors.
Victims will have an opportunity to prepare a victim's impact statement as part of the court process and can be present at sentencing to hear from those involved in the case.
If the young person breaches the program the matter can be referred back to the Children's Court for normal sentencing.