Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts & Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Natalie Gately

Second Advisor

Dr James McCue

Third Advisor

Dr Ann-Claire Larsen

Abstract

The Children’s Court Drug Court (CCDC) has operated for 20 years in Perth as an alternative Court for drug-using young offenders who present at the Children’s Court. Despite the CCDC’s relative longevity, researchers have examined neither the inner workings of the Court nor the experiences of its actors. The current study aimed, not to evaluate the CCDC, but to identify measures needed to refine CCDC processes to enhance the experiences and outcomes of young people who participate in the CCDC. It argues that despite the CCDC’s foundations in contentious therapeutic jurisprudence principles, on balance, the actors – young people, their parents, and staff – report that the CCDC intervention greatly benefits young offenders and their families, in ways not acknowledged in recidivism statistics. Given the social and fiscal costs of youth offending and justice in Australia, initiatives like the CCDC, which aim to address the causes of drug use and crime, can limit some costs.

A case study method allowed for the examination of several data sources including observations of the public waiting area, photographs of the Court, information publicly available about the Court, documents provided by the Department of Justice and interviews with key CCDC actors: the young people participating (n=7), their parents (n=8), and staff (n=8). A thematic analysis of the interviews revealed that initially, the young people volunteered to participate in the Court to avoid detention. However, by the end of their time in the CCDC, they saw benefits to their health and relationships, which they attributed to CCDC intervention and recommended the CCDC to others. The participants’ parents were also interviewed about their experiences as their child went through the Court processes. They revealed much about the hardships of parenting a young, drug-using offender, and their struggles with feelings and taking responsibility for their child, particularly when the CCDC staff gave them authoritative directives. Hope and aspirations were themes raised by all the interviewees. Young people described aspirations for meeting prosocial goals. Parents hoped these aspirations would be realised for their children. The staff saw the potential in young people and aided and encouraged them on their journey. The staff of the CCDC, in adhering to therapeutic jurisprudence principles, demonstrated their dedication to improving the quality of the lives of the young offenders as a preventive strategy against further offending. For them, favourable outcomes depended on the relationship built between themselves and the young people and the celebration of small wins.

The CCDC processes also were found to adhere to therapeutic jurisprudence principles. They were analysed using the tripartite framework for using therapeutic jurisprudence in criminal law. The CCDC was found to adhere to therapeutic jurisprudence principles in each of the categories: the legal landscape, where legislation and sentencing allowed for flexibility to address criminogenic and wellbeing needs; treatment and services, where the young person’s treatment was informed by local treatment service providers who were engaged as staff on the CCDC team; and practices and techniques, where a focus on building relationships between staff and the young people in a more therapeutic setting improved wellbeing. Overall, the research found that the collaborative or comprehensive treatment program, which is monitored by the judiciary, has succeeded in reducing drug use and offending behaviour of those interviewed. These were achieved through improving the young people’s health and their familial bonds, and by setting pro-social goals.

Access Note

The "Reflecting on the analysis process" in Chapters 6 and 7 are not included in this version of the thesis.

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