AN innovative sentencing scheme that aims to break the cycle of repeat offenders could be expanded into the Eurobodalla.
Aboriginal Elders have met with travelling magistrate David Degnan at Moruya Local Court to gauge support for circle sentencing in the shire.
Circle sentencing brings together the offender, victim, lawyer, and magistrate with local Elders as an alternative to jail.
It was trialled in Nowra in 2002 and has been operating ever since, Circle Sentencing and Care Service project officer Gail Wallace told local Elders.
So far it has been a success, and has expanded to other NSW towns, including Ulladulla, Dubbo and Blacktown.
“It’s a really good project because it gives the offenders a second chance to turn their lives around,” Ms Wallace said.
In circle sentencing, all the parties sit down and look at the charge.
“When you get in the circle, you hear exactly what they got up to, and (the Elders) let them know they disapprove of that,” Ms Wallace said.
In normal courts “a lot of what the magistrate says will go over his or her head because it’s not coming from his or her people,” she said.
“Circle sentencing is a positive because they can see their own people in it.”
Offenders have to plead guilty early to be considered for circle sentencing, and it can't be used by people facing serious charges including murder and sexual assault.
Ms Wallace said a common outcome was good behaviour bonds with certain conditions such as counselling, where the Elders support the offender the whole way through.
She said many former drug addicts and repeat offenders who had gone through circle sentencing were now living fulfilling, crime-free, lives.
“Never underestimate what you can do for your own people,” Ms Wallace told the Elders on Friday. “The respect is still there.”
Uncle Lou Davis, from Bermagui, was one of the first Elders in the initial trial and can see a need for circle sentencing in the Eurobodalla.
He said the circles were like “sitting with your family” instead of strangers.
“When you go to ordinary court, you’re just another bloke sitting up there being charged,” he said. “A lot don’t understand court things and feel intimidated just as you walk into the place.”