Circle Sentencing tackles crime

Bundjalung Elder Maria Sharpe and Circle Sentencing project officer Ken Morgan say Lismores first Circle Sentencing conference was a great success.

Local Aboriginal people have set up a new way of dealing with Aboriginal offenders Circle Sentencing which has been a big success in reducing crime where it was piloted it Nowra.

Circle Sentencing project officer, Ken Morgan, said Lismores first sentencing conference, held last week, was an intense experience for everyone involved.

A panel of four volunteer Circle Committee members, along with a magistrate, police prosecutor and solicitor, meet with offenders and discusses their crimes, the consequences for victims and the community, before handing down suitable punishment.

I sat there the other day and wondered how the magistrate, the police prosecutor and the solicitors felt about it, Mr Morgan said. They are used to being in control in their court rooms, but here it was the Elders in control.

Penalties are tailored for individual offenders and may include orders to attend drug and alcohol programs, community service, education courses and cultural activities. The Circle has the full sentencing power of the court, but focuses on keeping offenders out of the prison system.

Its the community taking control of dealing with criminal behaviour, and being given the right to make decisions on our own destiny, Mr Morgan said. I was so proud of the Elders that day.

Bundjalung Elder Maria Sharpe, one of the Circle Committee, said it was an empowering experience.

It is a very good thing to happen in Lismore, she said. Everything we said in the Circle came straight from the heart. I had butterflies when I went in, and even afterwards, its been hard to stop thinking about it.

Ms Sharpe said most Bundjalung people were in favour of Circle Sentencing, and the fact that so many people had volunteered their time was testament that they wanted to tackle crime in the community.

When Circle Sentencing was set up in Nowra, only one of the 25 offenders who went through the process were arrested for another offence.

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