'The elders know ... the white man don't know' : offenders' views of the Nowra Circle Court


Indigenous sentencing courts were established in 1999 to increase trust between Indigenous people and white justice, and to strengthen Indigenous communities. This article highlights the findings from the first in-depth qualitative study of Aboriginal offenders’ experiences with the Nowra Circle Court. It analyses all the Nowra Circle Court cases for non-family violence offences from February 2002 to May 2005. Each Circle begins with a discussion of the offence and the person’s circumstances. The Elders emphasise the negative impact of the offence on the offender, victim, and community and highlight the importance of family. For the most part the defendants’ experiences are positive: compared to regular courts, there is greater informality, more open information sharing, change in white-Indigenous power relations, a meaningful and constructive censuring process, and sentencing outcomes that balance punishment and rehabilitation. For most, the Circle was a deep, emotional, and spiritual experience. The article explores the relationship of Circle Court experiences to re-offending and concludes that use of qualitative methods is needed to provide a greater depth and more accurate understanding of the complex patterns of pathways into and out of crime for Aboriginal offenders.

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This document has been sourced from the Indigenous Law Bulletin, previously known as the Aboriginal Law Bulletin, database published on Austlii (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/IndigLawB/). AustLII advises that it is not the copyright owner of the source documents published on AustLII and is not able to give permission for reproduction of those source documents (refer copyright policy disclaimer dated October 2010). Queries about copyright should be referred to the publisher - the Indigenous Law Centre and the University of New South Wales.