Innovative approaches: online resource for judges and others

Guest bloggers Professor Tania Sourdin, Director, Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI) and Sarah Russell, Researcher and Editor, ACJI introduce …

INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO JUSTICE: THE NEIGHBOURHOOD JUSTICE EXPERIENCE

This resource has been designed for:

  • magistrates/judges/judicial officers
  • academics
  • law students
  • and others

interested in incorporating community justice, restorative justice, problem-solving and solution-focused approaches, procedural justice, therapeutic jurisprudence and pragmatic approaches to justice into other courts.

The online resources include practical, easy-to-implement tools comprised of six modules that contain videos, downloadable documents, including background materials and tip sheets, and resource lists:

Module 1: Introduction

Module 2: General Techniques Used in Court

Module 3: Sentencing Approaches

Module 4: Post-Sentence Judicial Monitoring

Module 5: Issues and Options

Module 6: Conclusion: Eight Key Messages

The user is encouraged to dip in and out of the modules, focusing on those issues, strategies or techniques of particular interest to him or her, and can download documents for future study and implementation.  Harnessing the power of the Internet ensures this product will reach those working in time-pressured environments where time for reflection and professional inquiry is brief.

INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO JUSTICE: THE NJC EXPERIENCE is available on Civil Justice Research Online, a free, searchable internet repository developed by Australian Centre for Justice Innovation

ABOUT THE NEIGHBOURHOOD JUSTICE CENTRE (NJC)  Melbourne, Australia

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre (the NJC) in the City of Yarra is Australia’s first community justice centre. Modelled on the Midtown Community Court and the Red Hook Community Justice Center, both in New York, the NJC is a multi-jurisdictional court that uses problem-solving approaches to justice in its criminal jurisdiction. The NJC takes a collaborative team approach to cases, which has similarities with the approach taken in other problem-solving courts, such as the Drug Court at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court. It includes local treatment and service providers onsite and has strong links to other services in Collinwood and surrounding areas.

The City of Yarra has the highest persistent crime rate of all of Victoria’s local government areas. Its crime rate in 2012/2013 was approximately 12,000 per 100,000 people; compare the state’s average of crime during the same period – which was approximately 7000 per 100,000 people. The City of Yarra also has ‘twice the rate of property crime than the state as a whole (8,500 versus 4,600 per 100,000), and 2.5 times the rate of drug-related crime (960 versus 380 per 100,000)’.[1]

Into this situation came the NJC, which opened in 2007. In the period from 2007-2008 to 2012-1013, there was a 31 per cent decline in total crime rates in the City of Yarra. This is the biggest decline in crime rate of any municipality in Victoria comparable to the City of Yarra over the same time period. The NJC states: ‘In the absence of any other community-integrated and place-driven approaches to issues of crime and other harmful behaviour, the crime rate changes in Yarra are compelling and provide an important contextual tool for monitoring the impact of justice programmes.’[2] The NJC has contributed to this decrease through crime prevention programs, community engagement and judicial monitoring of offenders. ‘The therapeutic jurisprudence practices we employ give our offenders opportunities to be accountable for their actions and rehabilitation, and … this model of justice is proving successful.’[3] Completion of Community Correction Orders is also higher at the NJC, with a completion rate of 77 per cent in 2011, compared with the statewide average of 70 per cent.[4]

One of the overarching goals of the NJC is to stop the cycle of offending so as not only to return offenders to the community, but also help them to become active participants in it. For the period May 2009 to March 2011, the NJC monitored recidivism rates of offenders with drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness and homelessness who received referral, support and treatment at the NJC. The NJC cohort were ‘pair-matched on the basis of age, priors and main offence with a control cohort from mainstream courts without ready access to onsite treatment services and support (187 offenders in each group)’.[5] The following findings were made:

  • ‘Non-reoffending: 67.4% of NJC offenders did not reoffend, compared to 55.6% of comparison group.
  • Re-offending: 6% of NJC offenders reoffended, compared to 44.4% of comparison group.’[6]

Significantly, the difference in reoffending rates between the two groups was 31 per cent. These findings are another important indication of the success of the community justice approach at the NJC.

In May 2013, the Victorian Government recognised the NJC’s success by granting it ongoing funding in its State Budget, which ‘marked the NJC’s transition from a pilot project to an organisation with a permanent funding base. The NJC also came within the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria’s administrative structure for the first time.’7 Unfortunately, there are still no other community justice centres in Victoria – currently the government’s approach seems to be ‘to promote the NJC’s role as an innovation centre for the courts and consider innovations developed at the NJC for broader application in other courts’.8 However, some of the NJC’s innovations have been adopted in other areas; for instance, at Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court in 2013, an Aboriginal Hearing Day and Partnership Group, based on the NJC’s model, was established.

In 2013, Magistrate David Fanning, presiding magistrate at the NJC, sought to implement the NJC’s strategic goal of ‘strengthen[ing] the Neighbourhood Justice Centre Community justice model and facilitate[ing] the transfer of its practices to other courts and communities.’ His vision was to develop an online tool to share innovative judicial techniques used successfully at the NJC and by other magistrates and to facilitate their adaptation in other courts. The resulting free, online resource was developed in collaboration with Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI) at Monash University. ACJI is a Research Centre in the Faculty of Law, which was created in 2011 with the assistance of the Australasian Institute for Judicial Administration (AIJA) and funding from the Victorian Department of Justice.

[1] Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 1.

[2] Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 1.

[3] Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 2.

4 Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 2.

5 Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 2.

6 Kerry Walker, ‘Our Neigbourhood – Where We Need to Be’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 2.

7 Louise Bassett, ‘How the NJC Is Going’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 1.

8 Louise Bassett, ‘How the NJC Is Going’ (Collingwood: NJC, 2014), 1.

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