When law and order becomes a matter of dollars and cents, is justice being served?
That’s the question many people will be asking following a study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics which has found forcing young offenders to admit and discuss their crimes is a better use of taxpayers’ money than making them face court.
Tamworth’s opinion, gauged by last year’s law and order public meeting and the content of the community petition to the NSW Parliament, is that young offenders should feel the full force of the law, particularly those who re-offend.
The bureau’s study declares youth justice conferencing costs on average 18 per cent less than formal court procedures.
The dollars and cents equation is that the average police cost of a conference is $1330 compared to $2278 if the matter is dealt with in court.
There are a couple of public perceptions which will create stiff opposition to any push to change the existing justice system.
Many people see conferencing as a soft option. Often referred to as “a slap on the wrist”, conferencing does not fit the crime in the eyes of some. While that might not be the case, there is a mentality that justice must involve a court, a magistrate or judge, and a penalty.
The other issue is that people are opposed to justice decisions being made on a dollar and cents basis. The cheaper option might not be the best option. Some people perceive that decisions made on cost favour the criminals and law-breakers.
While the taxpayer benefits when the receipts are issued, the justice equation may not have been paid in full.
Are offenders getting off lightly because they have dodged a date with a magistrate?
A number of decades ago, some young offenders were released on licence when convicted of an offence. This was designed to keep them out of detention and supposedly help with their reform.
Governments since have changed the system when the community interest was not being served.
And that is the defining outcome in all law and order equations. Is the community interest being protected, regardless of the cost?