Giving criminals a second chance not working, study finds

GIVING criminals one last chance at rehabilitation before they do time is failing in Northern NSW court rooms, a study has found.

"Forum sentencing" - a community conferencing program which gives judges an alternative option when punishing offenders who would otherwise be sent to jail - was originally trialled at Tweed Heads and has since been rolled out at Lismore, Ballina, Grafton and Coffs Harbour.

Under the program, which mirrors the Youth Justice Conferencing model, the accused, victim and others impacted by the crime are brought together to "discuss" what happened.

An intervention plan is then developed in an attempt "to repair the damage done...and if accepted by the court, is completed as part of the offender's sentence".

For offenders to be eligible, they must plead or be found guilty, be likely to serve jail time, be willing to participate and have no prior convictions for murder, manslaughter and serious drug and sex offences.

Comparing a random sample of more than 500 convicted criminals who had taken part in the program with the same number who had been sentenced the traditional way, the NSW Bureau of Statistics found about 5% of forum offenders recorded a new proven offence within six months compared with 7% in the matched group.

Twenty percent of forum offenders committed a new offence within 340 days while it took the same proportion of matched offenders about 324 days.

Releasing the report this week, BOSCAR said the study had found there was "no evidence" criminals referred to the program were less likely to re-offend than those sentenced through the normal process.

A copy of the report can be found at www.boscar.nsw.gov.au



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