Circle Sentencing

The process of Circle Sentencing as developed initially in the NT to provide culturally appropriate sentencing. Imagine you have committed an offence and instead of going to court and jail you’ll have to face a circle of elders, representatives of your community and your victim. This is the concept of ‘circle sentencing’.

What is ‘circle sentencing’?

For a long time there has been no real improvement in the situation of Aboriginal people in jail, despite the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and its many recommendations.

Aboriginal People are overrepresented in Australian jails. In 2006 (and still in 2008) 80% of the Northern Territory prison population was Indigenous. In addition, Aboriginal people in custody are often dying from treatable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

A scheme which is called “Circle Sentencing” in NSW tries to avoid gaol time for Aboriginal offenders. The term ‘circle sentencing’ stems from a circle of representatives sitting together and trying to decide a sentence which does not include a jail term.

Representatives are mainly Aboriginal Elders, but also members of the prosecution or police and a magistrate. The circle will also talk about the background and effects of the offence and can involve meeting the victim. The sentence should, where possible, involve community work.

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