Artwork: My Dragon, My Angel by Innes 2016 Urban Campfire art program NJC
Correctional services at the NJC
As a one-stop-justice centre, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre is home to a team of Community Corrections officers (CCOs).
As with CCOs across Victoria, the team supervises people the court has ordered to serve community-based sentences as well as people paroled from prison.
As with CCOs across Victoria, the team at the NJC is integral to protecting public safety, rehabilitating offenders and diverting offenders from repeat offending.
While the team performs the same duties as their colleagues across Victoria, our integrated services model means there are a few differences to how they work at the NJC.
Before we talk about this further, a word: at the NJC we refer to offenders are 'clients' and/or 'people before the court'. Henceforth, we will talk about clients, not offenders.
As with magistrates' courts across Victoria, a significant number of the clients supervised by our CCOs have complex psycho-social issues, such as substance addiction and cognitive impairment.
However, clients have treatment plans in place or in progress by the time the CCOs take on supervision because our Magistrate and the legal representatives will have referred them to to our treatment and support services (our Client Services) by and large, prior to sentencing.
In all, clients have a better chance of successfully completing their orders, and the CCOs also start supervision with an in depth understanding of their clients' individual circumstances.
Throughout the duration of the CCO, Corrections and Client Services may exchange information, with Corrections providing updates on clients’ well-being and compliance with the order.
Adverse situations or issues in the client's life are identified, and interventions such as Problem Solving Process and new/modified treatment pathways are rapidly adopted.
Client Services is available at any time, which means Corrections clients avail of financial counselling, job readiness programs, help to sort out fines, housing assistance, to name a few are readily available at any time.
Assessment and deferred sentencing
Corrections assesses the offender's risk of reoffending and suitability to undertake community correction orders. Assessment considers the person’s family and social situation, employment status, work history, mental health, substance use and history, as well as their motivation to turn their lives around.
During assessment Corrections may identify issues previously unknown to the court, and which may adversely affect the person’s ability to comply with the conditions of the order. When this happens, the team may recommend the court defers sentencing to address what are often complex issues. Corrections will then work with Client Services, legal representatives, and/or with the Neighbourhood Justice Officer who convenes the Problem Solving Process, to support the client.
Deferring sentencing to put clients back on their feet in time for sentencing improves the likelihood of clients successfully completing court orders and rehabilitating.
During the course of a CCO the NJC's Court will conduct Judicial Monitoring Hearing.
The Judicial Monitoring Hearing is a meeting at which the Magistrate and client to review the client’s progress, personal circumstances, and compliance with the condition of the order. Corrections officers also attend.
If the client is progressing well, the Magistrate takes the opportunity to provide words of encouragement.
Conversely, the Magistrate can refer the client to additional support such as the Problem Solving Process if circumstances in the person's life need to be addressed.
Judicial Monitoring typically occurs frequently in the early stages of a CCO, and taper off as the client continues to comply with the conditions of the order.
The process is an important component in NJC's collaborative approach to lowing recidivism rates and improving public safety.
"A young client of mine had multiple, complex needs. The Magistrate deferred his sentence so we could prioritise his needs. At the time of the deferral he wasn’t engaging with me or other Client Services. He was resistant. He was willing to talk, but not to follow through on the programs we’d put in place.
During his deferral he took part in a problem solving meeting, and the experience of having so many people around the table helping him by working with him made a profound impact.
Apart from coming out of the meeting with a modified mental health plan, he said to me: “I’ve never had so many people put so much into me.”
The court sentenced him to a CCO. What was interesting to me was that my client had always interacted with the Magistrate in court, but now you could see there was trust and a relationship between my clients and the Magistrate. Not just talk. They had a real conversation.
Despite a recent mental health diagnosis, he held it together. Before he’d have fallen apart.
He’s also motivated and proactive about treatment. He even wants to engage with the financial counsellor to do family financial planning. He recognises the need for structure in his life, and time for his kids and partner.
These are big changes as previously his life was chaos.
What’s significant is seeing his progress over a period of time, and his increased level of maturity.
I get to see his progress through the review process [Judicial Monitoring], which is unique to the NJC. At other courts my involvement ends post-sentencing.
That’s what’s great about the NJC. You can get clients the help they need".
Client Services case worker.
Long-term continuity of care
At the end of a successfully completed community correction order matter is discharged by the the Court.
However, NJC clients with complex issues may continue to receive support through the Centre’s Client Services, and the Centre sees the longevity of support as critical to long-term rehabilitation.
Close to 80% NJC’s clients on community correction orders successful completed their orders. The state average is around 40.1%.
The Centre's multi-disciplinary approach to information sharing and collaborative treatment and support management ensures a strong foundation for the successful completion of community correction orders.