…. It is simply not viable to set up a problem-solving court
specialising in arson offenders. The numbers do not justify it. For
example, over a five year period from 2003-2004 until 2007-2008 there
were only 237 people dealt with for arson (structural and bushfire
arson) in Victoria. But elements of a problem-solving court program
could be used in a mainstream court in relation to suitable arson
offenders whose offending does not deserve an immediate prison term.
Thus sentencing could be deferred while they undergo treatment with
regular court appearances, judicial case management, a
multi-disciplinary approach etc, provided community treatment and
support services are available and a coordinating mechanism is provided
whereby reports as to compliance are provided to the court and any
remedial steps implemented. Another option is to have offenders
participate in a re-entry court program towards the end of their
sentence â€“ in a similar manner to the Compulsory Drug Treatment Centre
in New South Wales.
Restorative justice conferences have been used in relation to arson
offences. This is an option that could be more widely used in
conjunction with traditional court processes or, in appropriate cases,
in substitution for court processes. Thus, less serious cases of
fire-related offences are dealt with in restorative justice style
conferences in juvenile justice cases. RJ processes promote the voice,
validation and respect of victims, perpetrators and communities. They
provide a mechanism for the parties to receive more information about
the offence and its effects on those involved. It can promote apology,
forgiveness and healing. It provides a mechanism for victims to be
heard and for fire starters to hear about the effects of their actions.
It also allows for reparation to be offered and made.
Naturally such cases need to be properly screened. Some fire
starters enjoy seeing the effects of their actions and their
participation in a conference may produce further trauma for victims.
Some victims take their own approach to healing and wish to move on
with their lives without engaging with perpetrators. Perhaps
conferences which would be the most effective would be those where the
perpetrators of arson acted out of a desire for revenge or for other
purposes â€“ such as for financial gain – rather than where mental
illness was involved.
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