Circle sentencing can be viewed as an alternative to conventional criminal trial. Overall, it can be understood as a procedure which involves the discussion of an offence between the defendant, the victim and the representatives of the local community (Doemer & Lab 20011, p. 151).
These people have to decide what kind of sanctions should be taken against the person who committed a crime. More importantly, they need to determine how the rights of a victim should be upheld. Circle sentencing is primarily aimed at reconciling the victim and the defendant.
Furthermore, this model strives to reduce the risk of subsequent crimes or recidivism. The Australian government favors such form of restorative justice and allows Indigenous Australians to take part in such trials.
This policy reflects several important interests and values of public administrators. First of all, the emphasis on circle sentencing is supposed to decrease the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in jails (Tumeth 2011, p. 6). These people can be sentenced to imprisonment for various kinds of offences, including minor ones (Marchetti & Daly 2004, p. 6).
They are more likely to be imprisoned that non-indigenous citizens of the country. The changes in public policies are based on the assumption that by sentencing a person to imprisonment for minor offences the government will only increase the risk of recidivism (Borowski 2010, p. 466).
This is why sentencing circles normally vote in favor of such sanctions as community services or participation in rehabilitation programs. Furthermore, this policy is aimed at involving indigenous communities into the judicial process (Marchetti & Daly 2004, p. 6).
The policy-makers believe that the government should gain the trust of indigenous people, especially their confidence in the existing system of justice (Tumeth 2011, p. 6). Therefore, the elders of Indigenous people normally take part in these sentencing circles.
These people enjoy authority within the community, and their decisions are more likely to be accepted by both victims and offenders. Hence, one of the interests or goals that policy-makers pursue is to demonstrate that the government is willing to eliminate the barriers between the state and Indigenous people.
Certainly, not every offender is eligible for participation in such procedures. For instance, sexual offences, homicide, robbery have to be tried in a conventional court.
Sentencing circles can try only summary offences such as public misdemeanor, minor violations of traffic rules, or the actions which resulted in the minor damages to the property of another person. Moreover, circles are mostly intended for young people who have no record of previous offences, especially those ones which are indictable (Borowski 2010, p. 465).
However, this is still a good opportunity for the Australian government to show that Indigenous communities will not be excluded from public decision-making. Hence, these people can be viewed as a more powerful stakeholder whose views, opinions, and interests should not be ignored. Additionally, this public policy indicates that the government favors the idea of preventive and restorative justice.
This approach emphasizes two important aspects the compensation that should be given to the victim and rehabilitation of the offender. Thus, the goal of the judicial system should not be only the punishment of the criminal because by penalizing for minor offences the state only increases the risk of later crimes.
Thus, one of the stakeholders is the entire community and its safety. This is one of the major assumptions underlying the policies of the state.
Overall, there is a theoretical perspective that can explain the origins and rationale for circle sentencing. In particular, one can speak about anti-racism. According to this approach, the existing social and economic problems of a country can be partly explained by the long-term disempowerment of a certain racial or ethnic group (Lister 2010, p. 91).
This theory suggests that lack of educational or employment opportunities can eventually lead to higher crime rates within a specific community (Lister 2010, p. 91). This argument can be applied to the Indigenous Australians who long faced both formal and informal discrimination.
Therefore, the state should help them integrate into the society. This is why the Australian government supports the idea of circle sentencing in order to empower these people and make sure that they can take part in public life. As it has been said before, they also try to break the so-called cycle of recidivism.
This concept implies the idea that imprisonment does not always lead to the correction of a person’s behavior (Doemer & Lab 20011, p. 151). Most likely, such sanctions will lead to the opposite effect, in other words, this individual may be more likely to commit crime in the future.
Hence, the goal of sentencing circles is to safeguard young individuals against the risk of more serious crimes. Yet, it is still possible to say that public policies are shaped by anti-racist ideology because circle sentencing is mostly intended for the members of Indigenous communities.
Non-indigenous offenders do not participate in such trials. This is why anti-racist perspective is the best explanation of the existing and future public policies.
On the whole, circle sentencing is a way of delegating authority to the indigenous community and reducing the risk of crime within the segment of Australian population. These are the main objectives that the existing policies strive to achieve. However, it is still necessary to determine whether these initiative have been successful and to what extent. Moreover, one should also understand how these policies can be improved.
Borowski, A 2010, ‘Indigenous Participation in Sentencing Young Offenders: Findings From an Evaluation of the Children’s Koori Court of Victoria’, Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Criminology, vol. 43 no. 3, pp. 465-484.
Doemer, W & Lab, S 2011, Victimology, Elsevier, New York.
Lister, R 2010, Understanding Theories and Concepts in Social Policy, The Policy Press, London.
Marchetti, E, & Daly, K 2004, ‘Indigenous Courts and Justice Practices in Australia., Trends & Issues In Crime & Criminal Justice, vol. 277 no.1 pp.1-6.
Tumeth, R 2011, Is Circle Sentencing in the NSW Criminal Justice System a Failure?, <https://www.alsnswact.org.au/>.
Weatherburn, D, Fitzgerald, J, & Juizhao H J 2003, ‘Reducing Aboriginal Over-representation in Prison’, Australian Journal Of Public Administration, vol. 62 no. 3, pp. 65-73.