The goal of our justice centre is to improve the quality of community life by improving public safety, holistically and sustainably.

Our work involves assisting:

  • Offenders to rehabilitate and reform
  • Victims to heal
  • Communities to overcome social disadvantage.

The Centre comprises:

  • Magistrate’s Court
  • Children’s Court
  • Victoria Civil Administrative Tribunal
  • Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal
  • Treatment and welfare agencies
  • Community-based crime prevention
  • Justice education, innovation, and communication.

Results

Does community justice work? The answer is yes.

  • The NJC has a 25% lower rate of reoffending than other Magistrates’ Courts
  • NJC offenders are 3 times less likely to breach Community Corrections Orders (23.1% of high risk offenders breach their orders compared to a state-wide average of 59.9%).
  • NJC offenders demonstrate lower breach rates for intervention orders (ranging from 4.6% to 6.3% compared to 8.73%-8.77% state-wide)

The Australian Institute of Criminology found that the presence of the NJC in the City of Yarra contributed to the 31% drop in crime rate in this Local Government Area.

Further that our model engages communities and increases confidence in and access to the justice system.

Community partnerships resolve crime and safety issues earlier and more proactively than those traditional justice practices that generally just focus on the repercussions of crime alone.

Contemporary court practices

As with other Magistrates’ Courts, our court sanctions offending behaviour with appropriate sentencing. We also ensure that appropriate support services are put into place for clients to assist with issues that may have impacted on their offending.

  • Sole Magistrate –The NJC has a sole magistrate who hears all matters before the court. This consistency allows a relationship to develop between the Magistrate and the people attending court and increases offender accountability.
    • Offenders sit at the bar table, alongside their legal representative and are encouraged to speak directly with the Magistrate.
  • Problem solving process: this process assists court clients to address difficulties regarding their matters before the court and assist them to get back on track. A Neighbourhood Justice Officer will set up an out of court meeting for the defendant, their legal representatives, and support people to tackle the defendant's problems. This process is about acknowledging that crime is not a contest to be won, but a series of problems to be solved.
  • Judicial Monitoring: Once a sentence has been determined, it is within the Magistrate's powers to monitor the progress of the client. If progressing well, the monitoring gives the Magistrate a chance to affirm positive progress. In the event the client needs additional assistance, the Magistrate can refer the client to other interventions at the centre, such as a Problem Solving Meeting and hold the client accountable.

Tackling the underlying causes of criminal behaviour is central to the approach of David Fanning, Magistrate at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre.

“People fall into crime; they start out committing offences and they tumble. People do have individual responsibility for the decisions they make, but all the same, most people would prefer to enjoy the benefits just as everyone else does in the community. And they would rather enjoy those benefits, but for a multitude of reasons such as health, disability, unemployment, social disadvantage generally, they commit offences. And that's where we step in.”

Contemporary treatment practices

Central to the distinction between the NJC and traditional courts is the services that are available even if you are not involved in an NJC case. These include:

  • Alcohol and drug counselling.
  • Mental health services.
  • Help with housing
  • Financial counselling.
  • Job readiness assistance
  • Koori services
  • Migrant and refugee settlement

Our services are provided by a mix of independent agencies who operate a branch of their services here, together with NJC clinicians and counsellors. How it works:

  • Immediate pathways: treatment starts at any time, typically as soon as the client arrives at the Centre. Clients can access treatment prior to attending court or even if they don’t have a Court matter but rather that they just live in the City of Yarra. All services are non-time limited. A referral to one treatment provider is a gateway to all services. Most clients have multiple needs, so agencies work in multi-disciplinary teams.

Use of the NJC

Our Centre has a number of meeting spaces that can be utilised by the broader community.

"We've plenty of room for our community to use. Some community groups get together her to meet up or learn something about their legal rights. And some people duck in and use one of our quiet rooms to gather their thoughts when the world's just a bit to chaotic for them. So we're part court, part treatment centre, part community hub. We welcome everyone." Di, Office Manager.

Community focused crime prevention

We can't arrest our way out of social disadvantage, which is why our Crime Prevention & Community Safety partners with local police, local government, local services, and local citizens to find lasting solutions that meet the needs of many.

Justice education and communication

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s (NJC) Education and Learning Team facilitates access for professionals, practitioners, students and the community to the NJC.

We provide customised information sessions onsite at the NJC or staff can attend at your site for large groups or as part of an event.

The NJC welcomes requests from academics, professionals or practitioners to visit or gain access to resources. As Australia’s only community justice centre and appointed as a mentor court by the Centre for Court Innovation (USA) the NJC is committed to supporting visits, placements and study tours for those interested in investigating community justice or specific aspects of the NJC operational model.

Further we have a number of programmes for students seeking an internship for credit in their course of study. The tertiary student programme includes placement in the Student Project Team Programme or one of the NJC’s Student Help Clinics; Wills & Wishes, Fines Assist and the Forms and Advocacy Service.

 

Richmond and Collingwood Housing Estates Community Arts Projects
Photography by Sue Kent