Source: (2002) Revised paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology 16th annual meeting. Melbourne, February 2001.

The literature on conferencing, restorative justice processes, and re-offending has largely been of comparative analyses of justice system interventions and re-offending, e.g., comparisons of conference and court by using experimental designs or by conducting meta-analyses. That researchers find few or no differences in comparing conference/court outcomes is disheartening to some and surprising to others, when the comparative approach itself may be part of the problem. We take an alternative approach in assessing the impact of conferencing on re-offending, utilising data from the South Australia Juvenile Justice (SAJJ) Conferencing Project and police records. Drawing from conference observations and official police data, we explore the relative importance of conference dynamics and offender characteristics in predicting future offending. We find that in addition to well-known predictors of re-offending, such as previous offending and social marginality, when youthful offenders were remorseful and when the outcome was reached by genuine consensus, young people were less likely to re-offend. These findings suggest that when attention is focused on the claimed benefits of conferencing in its own right, it is possible to identify those elements of restorative processes that are associated with reductions in crime. SAJJ observational and interview data also show that of the five groups in the conference process -- coordinators, police officers, young people (offenders), victims, and the SAJJ observers -- the victims were least able to correctly predict a young person's post-conference offending and most likely to wrongly think the young person would re-offend. Despite this, over 90% of victims recommended the government keep conferencing in the justice system.

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