Youth diversion and practitioner decision-making: Exploring multiple perspectives

Estrella PearceWestern Sydney University, Australia

 *corresponding author: e.pearce@westernsydney.edu.au

The ethos of restorative justice as a viable alternative to more punitive measures has been received with varying degrees of enthusiasm across different jurisdictions. In NSW, for example, only 3% of young offenders are diverted to youth justice conferencing. Australian studies on ‘diversion’ from court have focused on a broad and generalist analysis of ‘diversion’ mobilising demographic and cohort offending data to consider juvenile justice outcomes such as recidivism, participant satisfaction, and operational issues. Despite the central role of police and magistrates in youth conference referrals there is limited research, if any, examining these practitioners understanding and attitudes towards restorative justice within this context.  The limited amount of research examining police attitudes investigates police officers directly involved in conferences rather than in the process of referral, while research examining magistrates attitudes and factors on decision making processes is almost non-existent.

The aim of the current study is to fill the gap in the Australian context and explore the political and policy constraints that affect individual discretionary decision making in relation to youth ‘diversion’ in NSW. A qualitative analysis of interviews of the Children’s Court Magistrates, NSW Police and juvenile justice personnel shed some light on the factors affecting the discretionary decisions of individuals and institutions that influence the extent to which youth “diversion” is utilised in NSW. The findings indicate that there is ambivalence in decision making, at times structural and at times individual. This ambivalence is caused by the liberal state emphasis on both punitivism and welfarism. My research is significant in understanding the factors that impact on practitioner’s decision-making on youth ‘diversion’.

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