This procedure outlines how to recommend a youth justice group conference in a pre-sentence report.

 

When to use this procedure

When consideration is being given to recommending a youth justice group conference in a pre sentence report.

 

Practice context and legislation

  • Youth justice aims to divert young people from more intensive supervisory orders where this is appropriate. The group conferencing program provides a legislated rehabilitation intervention to the children’s court at the pre-sentence stage.
  • Youth justice group conferencing deals with conflict affecting a small group of people. The conference is managed by a convenor who provides a structure for conversation between conference participants. It progresses through a series of stages from conflict or disagreement to cooperation and collective decision making.
  • In Victoria, the group conferencing program facilitates dialogue between a young person who has offended, their victim/s and others affected by an offence. The aim is to improve the young person’s understanding of the consequences of their actions, provide an opportunity for them to take responsibility for their offending and encourage reparation to the victim and/or community. The outcome plan developed by group conference participants sets out what will happen in the future.
  • The target group for group conferencing is young people aged 10 to 17 years old at the time of the offence, appearing before the criminal division of a children’s court who have:
    • pleaded guilty, or have been found guilty of offences that do not include homicide, manslaughter or sex offences
    • committed offences serious enough for the court to impose a sentence supervised by the youth justice service including probation, youth supervision order, youth attendance order, youth residential centre order or youth justice centre order
    • been referred for a group conference within twelve months of the offence or, under exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the court
    • been assessed by Department of Health & Human Services Youth Justice service
    • consented to participate.
  • The assessment process aims to:
    • consider the appropriateness of the young person to participate in a group conference
    • provide the best possible advice to the court
    • ensure the young person understands the process that they are consenting to
    • provide accurate referral information to the respective group conference service provider
  • A young person may be assessed at court as suitable for a group conference and youth justice will advise the court accordingly. The assessment stage is critical to ensure the integrity of the program and that use of this intervention is consistent with legislation and program guidelines.
  • Section 414 of the Children Youth and Families Act 2005 allows the court to defer sentencing for a period not exceeding four months to undertake a group conference.
  • Section 415(1) of the Children Youth and Families Act 2005 enables the criminal division of the children’s court to consider deferral of sentence for the purpose of a young person’s participation in a group conference if the court is considering imposing a sentence requiring a sentence supervised by the youth justice service. This includes probation orders, youth supervision orders, youth attendance orders, youth residential centre orders or youth justice centre orders.
  • Where the court is considering a sentence of detention, the young person may be remanded in custody for up to two months to complete the group conference.
 

Roles and key tasks

Case manager

  • Supervise deferral of sentence and, where required, prepare pre-sentence report, including circumstances where young person is remanded)
  • Conduct a suitability assessment and complete ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’, including circumstances where young person is remanded..
  • As required, consult with team leader, senior practice adviser, youth justice custodial services workers (where young person is remanded) and group conference convenor to clarify issues to ensure an appropriate and accurate assessment is completed.
  • Attend court to support young person and provide advice to the court.
  • If a pre-sentence report has been ordered alongside a group conference, refer the young person to the appropriate group conferencing organisation.
  • Support young person through group conference process, and with completion of the outcome plan, in consultation with the group conference convenor.

Youth justice court advice service worker

  • Assist with gathering of documentation if young person is ordered to participate in a group conference.
  • Advise team leader if supervisory order is received

Team leader / team manager

  • Allocate young person to a case manager.
  • Provide consultation on, and endorsement of, appropriateness of group conferencing suitability assessment and recommendation in pre-sentence report.
  • Provide consultation on case management issues as required.

Assistant Director / Manager Individual and Family Support

  • Provide oversight, direction and monitoring of the area youth justice program.
  • Provide case consultation regarding young people exhibiting high-risk behaviours.

Youth Justice Senior Practice Adviser

Provide case consultation regarding recommendation, particularly for young people exhibiting high-risk behaviours. This should occur subject to local area agreements between Assistant Director / Manager Individual Family Support and the Senior Practice Advisor.

 

The procedure in detail

Pathways to a group conferencing recommendation

There are two ways a young person may be recommended for a group conference:

  • as a result of a recommendation in a youth justice pre-sentence report
  • as a result of a recommendation at court by the youth justice court advice service,following a proposal for group conferencing from the magistrate, prosecutor or young person’s solicitor during court proceedings (see procedure for ‘Court-based suitability assessment for group conferencing’).

Recommending group conferencing in a pre-sentence report

A recommendation for a group conference can been made in a pre-sentence report if the young person is likely to receive a sentence requiring the supervision of the youth justice service and in the following circumstances:

  • when a young person is not on an existing order supervised by youth justice
  • when the young person has breached an existing order by reoffending.

Conducting a suitability assessment

The youth justice group conferencing assessment guide can be found on page three of the ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’ proforma.

The assessment considers if the young person:

  • is clear about commitment required
  • is clear about alternative sentencing options and has spoken to their legal representative before giving consent
  • will have the support of family or significant others at the group conference
  • has living arrangements that allow them to engage in the group conference process

The assessment should note whether there are any safety issues or special needs that may affect the young person’s ability to engage with the group conferencing process.

 

If the young person is considered suitable, complete pages one and two of ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’ proforma.

Involvement with youth justice after the group conference

If the young person is currently involved with youth justice, or is likely to receive an order supervised by the youth justice service after group conferencing, a youth justice worker is allocated to the young person.

In these circumstances a youth justice worker must attend the group conference.

For further information see procedure for ‘Role of youth justice when a young person is referred to a group conference’.

Secondary consultation

A young person’s suitability for group conferencing may not be clear, for example:

  • if the young person’s living arrangements do not appear stable enough for them to commit to the group conferencing process
  • if they have significant health issues.

Consult a team leader to clarify the young person’s suitability.

The youth justice worker may also consider speaking with the relevant group conferencing service provider for further advice.

Attending court

The author of the pre-sentence report or a delegate must attend court to answer any queries by the magistrate and to note the response and outcome to the recommendation.

See procedure for ‘Attending court and court etiquette for further information’.

Young person is found suitable, but the court orders an alternative disposition

The court must consult with youth justice about a young person’s suitability for group conferencing (Children Youth and Families Act 2005, s.414 ((1)(c)(i)), but it is not obliged to agree with the outcome of the assessment.

In these situations no further group conferencing action is required from the youth justice worker.

Court finds young person suitable for group conferencing

At court, collect and make copies of the following documents for the group conference convenor and for the youth justice file:

  • police charge sheets and summaries
  • group conferencing court order
  • completed ‘Youth justice group conferencing suitability assessment report’
  • ‘DHS consent for release and exchange of information consent form’.

The person who conducted the assessment is responsible for referring the young person to the appropriate group conferencing organisation funded by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Within two working days of the young person being found suitable for group conferencing:

  • contact the group conferencing organisation/convenor by telephone to notify them of the new referral
  • make arrangements to forward all group conference documentation as outlined
  • discuss the case and allocate to an appropriate team leader, who will allocate the young person to a case manager.

Recording on CRIS

Within two working days of the young person’s group conferencing referral, attach scanned documents to the young person’s CRIS file, note the court-ordered return date and case-note any other relevant information. 

If the young person is current ly involved with youth justice or likely to receive a supervisory order upon their return to court after group conferencing, ensure that the young person has an allocated worker who is able to attend the group conference.

Role of the convenor

The group conference convenor is responsible for:

  • preparing all participants for the group conference (including the youth justice worker if applicable)
  • facilitating the conference
  • providing a group conference report to court
  • supporting the young person as required to complete their group conference outcome plan if they receive a non-supervisory order when they return to court for sentencing.

Role of the youth justice worker

If a young person is on a current supervised order and/or is likely to receive a supervised order after the group conference, a youth justice worker must attend the group conference.

The convenor will initiate contact with the youth justice worker to prepare them for the conference.

For further information including the role of the youth justice worker after group conferencing, see ‘Role of youth justice when a young person is referred to a group conference’.

A young person fails to attend or is found guilty of an offence during the deferral period

If the young person fails to attend the conference or they are found guilty of an offence in the deferral period, the convenor must prepare a group conferencing report for the court and notify the youth justice worker who conducted the assessment and facilitated the referral.

The court may relist the case at short notice, and on the adjourned hearing make any order which the court could have made if it had not deferred sentence.

Children Youth and Families Act 2005, s.362(4), states that the court ‘must not impose a sentence more severe than it would have imposed had sentencing not been deferred’.

Return to court for sentencing after a group conference

The convenor will prepare a group conference report for the court that includes the conference outcome plan.

The youth justice worker and the convenor should attend court to provide support to the young person and provide advice to the court as required.

In determining an appropriate sentence, the court will consider:

  • the young person’s behaviour during the period of deferral
  • the pre-sentence report (where applicable)
  • the young person’s participation in the group conference
  • information in the group conference report.

The Children Youth and Families Act 2005, s.362(3), states that the court ‘must impose a sentence less severe than it would have imposed had the child not participated in a group conference’.

Proceedings of group conference are protected by s.415(10) of the Children Youth and Families Act 2005and cannot be reported on without leave of the court or consent from all parties to the group conference.

Note sentencing outcome on CRIS

After court:

  • if the young person received a unsupervised order, close the case on CRIS. Youth justice has no further involvement
  • if the young person received an order to be supervised by youth justice, note outcome in CRIS. Youth justice is responsible for supervising the young person’s outcome plan. For further information see procedure for ‘Role of youth justice during the preparation, facilitation and following a youth justice group conference’.