From the despair of Don Dale to a brighter future: how Restorative Justice can lead system change in the Northern Territory

Jared Sharp1

1 General Manager NT, Jesuit Social Services, Smith St, Darwin, NT, 0810 

This paper will look at the future potential of restorative justice in the Northern Territory youth justice system.

In recent years, court-referred pre-sentence conferences in the NT have emerged as a viable option for young people appearing before the court, prior to being sentenced. Their initial success hints at the enormous potential for restorative justice conferences in the NT if used more broadly.

The paper will consider some case studies of conferences involving Aboriginal young people in the last few years. It will look at impacts of these conferences on the young people concerned, including Aboriginal young people who might have been previously considered too entrenched in the system for a restorative process to be considered. For some of these young people, participation in a conference has been the catalyst for tremendous change, both in terms of halting their offending trajectory, as well as improving their relationships with carers and family.

But are there lessons that can be drawn to guide a future, increased role for restorative justice in the NT youth justice system?

This paper will look at some of the structural changes needed to increase the utilisation of restorative justice conferences in the NT. These include the expert, specialist resources to facilitate the process, assessment criteria, and timeframes for convening a conference.

At the same time, cultural safety of restorative justice processes for Aboriginal young people must be paramount.[1] This paper will look at strategies to make restorative justice conferences a fair and accessible process that Aboriginal young people can participate in. It will look at cultural safety planning and other supports that need to be put in place.

The paper will conclude by looking at the post-Royal Commission landscape in the NT, which could see restorative justice as the norm rather than exception. It will consider the expansion of restorative conferences to other areas such as family conferences for young people in the child protection system. And it will also look at whole-of-system reform to embed restorative justice as the dominant paradigm for how conflicts affecting young people are resolved in the NT.

It will also look at the possible use of restorative justice in schools, in the remote context involving Aboriginal Elders and community leaders, for vulnerable 18-24 year olds in the criminal justice system, to resolve conflict in the youth detention context, and to empower young people to exert positive peer influence through the peer panel model currently in operation in some parts of the United States.

[1] See, for example Daly, ‘Restorative Justice in Diverse and Unequal Societies’ (1999):


Jared is the General Manager, Northern Territory, Jesuit Social Services.

Jared’s background is mainly as a criminal lawyer specialising in youth justice for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). In 2012, Jared was extremely fortunate to receive a Churchill Fellowship to consider culturally strengthening initiatives to support Aboriginal young people in the justice system. Jared was also recently awarded a 2016 NT Human Rights Award in the youth category.

Jared has an extensive involvement in mediation and restorative justice, and is passionate about expanding non-adversarial justice approaches, in particular youth justice conferencing in the NT youth justice system.

Jared’s role at Jesuit Social Services includes bringing its highly successful youth justice conferencing model run in Victoria since 2003, to the Northern Territory.

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