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Therapeutic justice the solution, not the cause of criminal activity

Therapeutic justice the solution, not the cause of criminal activity


The LIV is concerned about recent media commentary that suggests a therapeutic approach by magistrates and the judiciary is to blame for the spate of criminal activity in Victoria over the past year.

Therapeutic justice is an evidence-based approach to law and sentencing that recognises that a purely punitive approach is not effective in changing behaviour and keeping communities safe, LIV president Belinda Wilson said. “Punishment alone does not prevent crime. Addressing the causes of crime prevents crime.”

Contrary to some reports, therapeutic justice does not let offenders off lightly, Ms Wilson said. “It is not soft justice. In fact it holds offenders accountable for their actions, requiring them to face up to their actions, take steps to repair the harm they have inflicted, and make changes in their lives.”

Therapeutic justice does however, recognise that crime has a social dimension and takes into account the context and issues that have led to offenders’ harmful behaviour, Ms Wilson said.

Last year’s report by the Victorian Ombudsman on the rehabilitation of prisoners showed that a large proportion of offenders come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – with high rates of poverty, unemployment, family violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.

Therapeutic justice aims to halt the social and intergenerational aspect of crime by addressing its causes and providing offenders with the tools and support to avoid further reoffending.

Ms Wilson pointed to the reduced recidivism rates among those involved in therapeutic justice programs in Victoria’s “problem-solving courts” such as the Drug Court and the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC), which deals with offenders diagnosed with mental illness, and participants in Youth Justice Group Conferences, where offenders engage with their victims, family members and other court and support staff to make reparations for their crime.*

“These programs have been shown to be highly effective and economical,” she said.

The current spate of crime does not mean therapeutic justice does not work, she said. “Therapeutic justice is an ongoing process. More work needs to be done to find ways to address the underlying causes of the crime and to help steer these offenders away from becoming hardened lifelong criminals,” she said.

Cultural issues, intergenerational trauma, and the impact of the drug ice created new challenges that needed to be dealt with by skilled experts, not responded to with a retributive approach that would not solve the crime problem in the long term, she said.

*A 2014 KPMG report into the Drug Court found that the program cost one quarter of the cost of imprisonment per year, and resulted in a 34 per cent drop in recidivism two years after offenders participated in the program, including a 90 per cent cut in trafficking offences and a 54 per cent cut in weapons offences.

A 2010 KPMG study found that young people who participated in Youth Justice Group Conferencing were much less likely to reoffend, with just 16 per cent of participants reoffending within 6 months, compared with 40 per cent of those who received a probationary order.

A 2015 five year study with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria found that 57 per cent of participants in the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) List program had not reoffended – and of those who had reoffended, there was a statistically significant reduction in reoffending behaviours.


Karin Derkley, LIV Media Advisor 

T: 03 9607 9389
M: 0413 014 902 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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