The Sentence Administration Board (the Board) has a primary objective to ensure, as far as practicable, that the sentences imposed by courts are given effect (section 6 Crime (Sentence Administration) Act 2005, CSA Act). Its main work is to exercise ‘supervisory’ powers in relation to parole and Intensive Corrections Orders. Its supervisory functions are usually exercised by a Board of three members – a judicial member and two non-judicial members.

The Board’s lists are organised in divisions, with each chaired by a judicial member. Currently, there are three divisions of the Board that alternate across scheduled sitting days. As a matter of practice and where possible, particularly in complex cases, the Chair and the two Deputy Chairs of the Board continuously preside at the same division, with cases adjourned to that same division until a final decision is made by the Board.

Considering the public interest and community safety within a human rights framework underpins the work of the Board.  The Board observes natural justice in its proceedings and decision making.

The Board has statutory time frames in which to deal with certain cases. In any event, the Board aims to deal with all cases as promptly as practicable and as resources allow. It prioritises cases where the offender is in the community and a risk to the community.

The Board aims to apply a problem-solving and therapeutic approach to its work to improve the outcomes for the community, offenders, and victims.

Therapeutic and Problem-solving approach of the Sentence Administration Board

A ‘therapeutic and problem solving’ approach refers to the Board working in a manner that is consistent with the Crimes (Sentence Administration) Act 2005 (CSA Act), natural justice and human rights, and which aims to deliver the best possible outcomes for the community, offenders, and victims. Such an approach  is not ‘soft’ on offenders and  balances their individual prospects with protecting the public interest and community safety. Importantly, it can reduce non-compliance and re-offending, and therefore protect community safety and deliver efficiencies in the Board’s work.

By working therapeutically with offenders and victims, the Board offers them a voice. Offenders and victims are encouraged to participate in proceedings, proceedings are fair, and communications are respectful. This approach is consistent with human rights, the objectives of the CSA Act (section 7) and of the Victims of Crime Act 1994.

The CSA Act has many provisions that are in line with this approach. For example, the Board is required to be responsive to offenders’ and victims’ needs and requirements, to operate informally and as it considers appropriate, and to explain decisions (sections 132, 187, 196(1) and (2) CSA Act).

Offenders are encouraged and, in some cases, required to make submissions to the Board. Usually their case will involve a hearing in which the offender participates.  Quite often, the Board lists cases before the same presiding judicial member to offer continuity to offenders for hearings that are adjourned. Follow-up hearings (management hearings) are conducted for offenders with complex needs who are granted parole to:

  • Check on their progress re-integrating into the community.
  • Motivate and remind them of their obligations, especially to victims.
  • Monitor and facilitate the delivery of critical support to an offender that is required to successfully complete the parole order.

Evidence shows that orders which result from proceedings perceived by the offender to have been fair and respectful, and that align with their own goals, are more likely to be complied with. For this reason, the Board aims to relate to offenders in a way that builds and re-enforces their motivation to succeed when completing their sentence in the community. For example, an offender who is demonstrated motivated to stop using illicit substances can be encouraged by the Board to access the most appropriate level of drug treatment and drug testing regime. While the Board may direct the latter, if the offender acknowledges that the treatment and testing is consistent with their own goals, the Board’s direction is more likely to be complied with.

The Board applies a problem-solving approach in its work. For example, if the Board identifies gaps in an Indigenous person’s rehabilitation plan that will undermine their ability to meet the requirements of a community-based order, the Board will encourage parties to fill these gaps and adjourn proceedings if necessary for this purpose. This approach is consistent with the ACT Government’s ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2019-2028.

The Board is developing a Practice Note to support working therapeutically and in a problem-solving manner, which will be published in 2022. This initiative will be in line with other initiatives to embed similar approaches into court and tribunal practices in Australia and in Canada (refer to Michael S King Solution-focused judging bench book and Susan Goldberg Problem solving in Canada’s courtroom’s: A guide to therapeutic jurisprudence).