Indigenous young people and the NSW Children’s Court: Magistrates Perceptions of the Court’s Criminal Jurisdiction

What do Children’s Court magistrates perceive as the main challenges in responding to Indigenous young people who break the law? This question has recently been examined by Crime and Justice Research Centre (CJRC) researcher Dr Kelly Richards, with colleagues Associate Professor Lorana Bartels (University of Canberra) and Dr Jane Bolitho (University of New South Wales). As part of Dr Bolitho’s et al’s Australian Research Council-funded study (the ‘National Assessment of Australia’s Children’s Courts), all Children’s Court magistrates in New South Wales were interviewed about a range of relevant issues, including the ongoing problems faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The over-representation of Indigenous young people in the justice system is an urgent social justice issue, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting that Indigenous young people are 24 times as likely to be in youth detention as non-Indigenous young people (see http://aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129557387).

Magistrates interviewed for the current research reported feeling somewhat helpless to address this problem, and stymied in their attempts to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous young people. Predominantly, they believed that by the time a young person is before the Children’s Court, there is little that the court can do to prevent the young person becoming entrenched in a criminal career. Magistrates instead called for better investment in early intervention and prevention programs, such as the Tribal Warrior Mentoring program (see http://tribalwarrior.org/tribal-warrior-mentoring-program/). Previous research undertaken by Dr Richards for the Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse shows that a range of crime prevention measures that specifically target Indigenous young people have been found to have positive results (http://www.indigenousjustice.gov.au/publications/promising-interventions-for-reducing-indigenous-juvenile-offending/).

Children’s Courts magistrates also called for increased funding for specialist resources, such as the Aboriginal Legal Service, particularly in regional and remote areas, as well as measures to build relationships of trust between Indigenous communities and courts. In this context, some magistrates expressed support for Indigenous sentencing courts, such the Koori Youth Court currently being piloted in NSW.

The full text of the research was published in volume 19(2) of the Australian Indigenous Law Review, and can be read at:

http://www.unsworks.unsw.edu.au/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=UNSWORKS&docId=unsworks_modsunsworks_40147

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