Last night’s Four Corners
…circle sentencing, an innovative process aimed at preventing crime – and reducing the scandalous over-representation of indigenous people in the courts and in jails. In NSW, indigenous people represent just two per cent of the general population – but 20 per cent of adult male prison inmates, and even higher percentages of female and juvenile inmates, are Aboriginal.
In a normal court, a defendant who pleads guilty need not say a word. He or she might not comprehend what is going on. The arguments and the pleadings are the business of mostly white lawyers and white magistrates. Not so with circle sentencing…
The scheme has been running for three years in Nowra – and one-time sceptics like police prosecutor Craig Veness are now ardent converts. “Nobody really knew what was going to happen… however what I’ve found in this process is that it makes a difference, it actually does,” he says. “(Offenders) really don’t seem to come back.”
Circle sentencing has also been running for two years in Dubbo, on the NSW western plains, where re-offending rates for circle “graduates” are way below the average. Now it’s being started in other NSW centres.
Variations exist in some other states – though none that devolve so much responsibility to Aboriginal elders. Could this be the circuit-breaker that provides a more effective deterrent to Aboriginal offenders than prison, and eventually cuts the rates of indigenous imprisonment?