15th January 2021

A component of a reform agenda introduced by a previous State Government, Restorative Justice, has just surfaced. A three (3) year Pilot program called the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP) that has by stealth continued on and is now due to be adopted by the County Court, and it would seem without legislative support.

The CISP seems nothing more than a referral program that has been overlaid in the Courts bureaucracy at the cost of somewhere north of $40m over its duration and performs a function that the Courts were already responsible for. Another layer of bureaucracy providing jobs for academics featuring a multi-disciplined approach, a euphemism for big pay packets. Any wonder the judiciary support the program when this workload is removed from them, not to mention the budgetary advantages of not having to fund this process through Court budgets. Get rid of responsibility and keep the savings.

This quango is in its fifteenth (15th) year after a trial that was only being conducted at a small number of Magistrates Courts for three (3) years has crept across the State like a plague and now is trending upwards in the Judicial system.

This Pilot is not a pilot; it is a bureaucratic process that has been introduced under the guise of a pilot to avoid scrutiny. The Pilot has been running far longer than the original three-year schedule and has expanded to include all major Magistrates Courts and now heads for the County Court. We can’t find any underpinning legislation, certainly not for the County Court foray.

This is a classic bureaucratic overreach, dictating social changes to the electorate’s exclusion, but then what would we know, we are only their employers.

Being treated in this manner is offensive to all Victorians. If the program is so good why the stealth?

And what makes this initiative so offensive is there is no empirical data that shows it works, at its most generous only 50% of participants complete it. The trial found that only a 10% better outcome for the participants compared to a control group.

By any stretch, that cannot be considered a success when the program itself gets to cherry-pick participants.

The review of the first three years of the Pilot is uninspiring and features a list of parameters that could not be measure because the records of that data are not kept. Based on this review, the only one located, any pragmatic evaluation of CISP would not see it binned at that stage. https://silo.tips/download/evaluation-of-the-court-integrated-services-program-final-report

The headline figure relied upon by its proponents is that 50% of offenders entering the program do not re-offend, but 50% do. Relying on that abysmal figure to justify the program is bad enough, but that figure is a classic’ smoke and mirrors’ assessment because that is not the truth of the matter.

In the fine print, this program’s constructors have put an arbitrary time frame (for which it appears there is no scientific basis) on re-offending. This random figure means re-offending outside that arbitrary period is not counted as re-offending. Be interesting to know what this offending is?

There appears to be no mechanism to deal with those perpetrators who may not satisfy or complete the program, particularly those who were never convicted or pleaded guilty to the crime alleged. Whether theoretical or not, that means that the 50% figure may well include many who did not complete their part in the initiative. Because of the program’s structure, and the participant could reappear for the program as a first-timer, not as the recidivist they are.

Of course, you could rely on a perpetrator, to be honest, an oxymoron, and admit that they had used the program before, and it helped in their sentencing outcomes.

However, a victim of this re-offending may have a different view of this program to the constructors.

While on the subject of Victims, it may have escaped these constructors that there is a victim for every one of those crimes that end up one of their statistics. Victims who read the material on this initiative can be excused for thinking the equality between victim and perpetrator that Restorative Justice proposes have been lost.

Restorative Justice is popular amongst academics, but even this concept has been hijacked to exclude Victims, a cohort that does not rate a mention in any form in the CISP.

Under this system, all sorts of favourable outcomes for criminals can be achieved.

To access this support, they just need to commit a crime. Housing, mental health support, employment support, and much more are not provided to the crime victim.

As ridiculous as it may seem, this scheme could incentivise crime. All these things on offer, and it just needs the individual to commit a crime, a significant deterrent effect; we don’t think so.

What is also unclear, is what is the status the alleged perpetrators? The best we can deduce is that they are often suspected perpetrators as they can enter the program without having to plead their guilt or innocence or have the evidence against them tested.

This gives rise to two undesirable consequences. Firstly the possibility that the innocent or wrongly accused could be subject to the process, and secondly without status how can the perpetrator be recorded (the small matter of their privacy) to ensure they are not gaming the system for their upcoming court appearance.

This program has advanced as far as it has because of stealth. The title, ‘A Pilot has excluded the mechanisms to protect the community from undesirable social engineering (the Parliament)’. Whoever heard of a three (3) year Pilot operating for fifteen years?

This bureaucratic approach undermines at least two arms of democracy, the Parliament and the Judiciary. Under this approach, we could dispense with both and hand all power to the State, is called totalitarianism.

There would seem to be no record of even a ‘sham’ community consultation process; the constructors are so sensitive to rejection.

The question that must be answered is where did these bureaucrats obtain the mandate for the Pilot, let alone its 15 years of operation and budgets of $3 million per annum, extrapolating out to somewhere at north of $40m and extensions from the Pilot sites to every major Magistrates court in Victoria and now the County Court?

That the Parliament has not functioned for over twelve months does not give bureaucrats licence to proceed with social engineering without reference to the House. They have had 15 years to have a bill for its function presented to the House to give the program legitimacy. There has been no bill concerning the operation of this program in the County Court.

This bureaucratic process would seem to have cut the Attorney General out of the loop, and she needs to put the brakes on this program and expose it to proper scrutiny.

We have been edging towards totalitarianism on a number of fronts. Still, with the bureaucrats taking advantage of the lack of an effective parliament, that has now developed into a sprint. The sprint no doubt motivated by the impending return of Parliament, not when the risk of COVID dissipates (as it now has), but when the State of Emergency expires in April.

One of the architects of restorative jurisprudence advocates reimagining our justice system, which would be good if that meant imagining a society with little or no crime and few victims, but it does not. It is reimagining that a criminal is not a criminal and is not responsible for their actions; we are, and that is a bridge too far.

The purpose of, The Court Integrated Services Program (CISP) is to reduce recidivism and presumably crime; therefore, only one logical and practical yardstick can be is applied to evaluate it, the crime rate.

For the fifteen years of this project, the Crime rate in 2005/6 was 373,024 reported crimes or 7383 per 100k population, by 2020 that has grown to an overall crime rate increasing by approximately 40% to 514398 reported crimes and 8227 per 100k population, an additional 141,137 crimes committed per annum in this State.

No matter which way you cut and slice these figures, this program is a fiasco for Victorians. It may give restorative justice proponents a warm glow – that $40m  glow could be better spent on crime prevention, then there would not be as many perpetrators or victims for that matter. Should that not be the purpose?

The return on this expenditure has had no impact on crime and has not reduced the impact on Victims. So why are we still doing it? Other than it being a bureaucratic jaunt, $40m+ for a 10% reduction in recidivism for a cherry-picked cohort of criminals is a ridiculous waste of money.

Based on the figures during the pilot phase, it costs $12K to achieve one successful outcome for one perpetrator for a limited period with no guarantee they will not re-offend.

From its inception through its ‘Pilot’, this whole process is a direct challenge to our democracy. It is a clear path to totalitarianism where the State operates without reference to the people they govern.

So CISP is a failure.