Interviews with Children’s Court magistrates in New South Wales, Australia, provide a rare insight into the views of those working everyday at the coal face of youth justice…

The research of Kelly Richards, Lorana Bartels and Jane Bolitho suggests:

  • magistrates were enthusiastic about the philosophy of both restorative justice and therapeutic jurisprudence measures.
  • magistrates were reluctant to embrace these approaches if they consider them under-resourced, poorly understood and/or poorly implemented.
  • there was support for the more intensive model that TJ measures can provide in response to youth offending.
  • magistrates’ support for therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) measures was premised broadly on a view that addressing youth offending requires a multi-agency, wraparound approach that traditional court approaches cannot provide.
  • youth justice restorative conferences were supported because magistrates believed they can help young people develop empathy, face the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for their behaviour.
  • the TJ-oriented model then in operation in NSW was supported on the grounds that it provided young people with an intensive, multi-agency response to their complex offending-related needs. However, both of these models were considered to be under-utilised and poorly resourced.
  • magistrates believed that early intervention measures that keep young people out of trouble in the first place were preferable to court.
  • they believed that young people already in trouble require an approach that intensively addresses their offending-related needs (e.g. health, education, substance abuse) via an intensive, well- resourced, coordinated multi-agency approach.

The authors made several recommendations for the improved operation of the NSW Children’s Court, including:

  • the need to properly resource and support TJ and RJ initiatives,
  • the need to reinstate the TJ-oriented Youth Drug and Alcohol Court; and
  • improved judicial education and training.

The research was part of a national study of Children’s Courts in Australia about a wide range of topics.  The NSW component of the study included semi-structured qualitative interviews with all 12 Children’s Court magistrates in NSW. The NSW Children’s Court deals with the vast majority of offences alleged to have been committed by young people that have not been resolved by youth justice conferencing, but it does not have jurisdiction over serious indictable offences (i.e. homicide and offences punishable by 25 years’ or life imprisonment).

Read the full paper here.

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