Circle sentencing success strengthens case for a Walama Court in NSW

New South Wales Bar Association

The New South Wales Bar Association reiterates its call to establish a specific Indigenous Sentencing Court – the Walama Court – following the release of new research on the effectiveness of Circle Sentencing in NSW Local Courts.

“The Association has consistently advocated for a Walama Court to address the longstanding issue of the over-representation of Indigenous people in the NSW criminal justice system,” New South Wales Bar Association President, Tim Game SC, said today.

“Research released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) today strengthens the case for a Walama Court by demonstrating the effectiveness of Circle Sentencing in lowering rates of imprisonment and recidivism for Aboriginal people,” Mr Game said.

The BOCSAR Report found that Aboriginal offenders who participated in Circle Sentencing are 9.3 percentage points less likely to receive a prison sentence, which represents a 51.7 percent decrease from the rate at which offenders undergoing traditional sentencing are incarcerated. Offenders who underwent Circle Sentencing are 3.9 percentage points less likely to reoffend within 12 months and take 55 days longer to reoffend if and when they do, than Aboriginal offenders sentenced in the traditional way.

“These encouraging results lend support to establishing a Walama Court. The Walama Court involves a hybrid model incorporating aspects of the Victorian Koori Court and the NSW Drug Court and would operate at District Court level,” Mr Game said.

“The Walama Court model proposes a community-based option where the judge has the capacity to monitor the progress of the individual post-sentence. The monitoring will include an intensive period of monitoring, including more intensive supervision by Community Corrections in the community.

“The Walama Court proposal is designed to reduce recidivism rates of Indigenous people through the use of more rigorous supervision orders and diversionary programs in the sentencing process, as well as increased cooperation between the criminal justice system and respected persons in the Indigenous community. The proposal has the support of the Police Association of NSW, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2018 Pathways to Justice – Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PeoplesReport.

“We urge the Government to support a proposal that has both the capacity to make a significant difference to the lives of First Nations Peoples and deliver cost savings to NSW taxpayers as under the model fewer Indigenous persons would be imprisoned and recidivism rates reduced.

“First Nations Peoples make up 2.8 percent of Australia’s population yet represented approximately 25 percent of adults in custody in NSW at the end of March 2020. The Association urges the Government to prioritise the establishment and funding of the Walama Court this year,” Mr Game said.

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