Circle sentencing at the crossroads

CIRCLE sentencing of indigenous offenders does not reduce the risk they may offend again, a report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed this week.

The report also reveals the level of reoffending rates after circle sentencing is similar to those of the mainstream NSW court system.

Circle sentencing, piloted in Lismore nearly two years ago, is an alternative method of sentencing Aboriginal offenders involving the offender's community and elders.

But while the program has not reduced reoffending more than in the mainstream justice system, it is not any less.

The bureau's director, Dr Don Weatherburn, said the circle sentencing system ought to be strengthened, rather than abandoned.

“Giving Aboriginal elders direct involvement in the sentencing of Aboriginal offenders encourages offenders to critically reflect upon their behaviour,” he said.

NSW Law Society president Hugh Macken said he supported circle sentencing as a valid option because it considered both the Aboriginal community and the offender.

“Early results had indicated that circle sentencing had a positive impact in reducing the rates of reoffending when it was first introduced in NSW, and this in itself suggests that the program warrants further improvement and re-evaluation,” he said.

“The facts speak for themselves because the social, cultural and economic circumstances of many indigenous Australians mean they occupy a higher proportion of the prison population and are more likely to reoffend.

“We are pleased to see that the State Government is taking the evaluations of the program on board, as circle sentencing is an option that needs to be maintained, developed and revisited so that we can reduce rates of incarceration for indigenous Australians, as well as crime in Aboriginal communities.”

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