How a diversion program helped avoid a criminal record

How a diversion program helped avoid a criminal record

A life-long criminal record can make it difficult to get work and to break away from people who have a negative influence on your life. It’s particularly hard for young people, who, given the right support, can grow out of offending.

Diversion programs give first-time or low-level offenders the chance to avoid a criminal conviction through activities that force them to face up to the reasons they offend.

A diversion program helped Sally* take responsibility and start making a positive contribution to her community.

Sally’s story

Sally’s dad lives overseas and her mum passed away when she was very young. After arriving in Australia with her brother, Sally lived interstate before moving to Melbourne to live with her cousin. She’s no longer in contact with her brother.

Sally’s cousin and her girlfriends introduced the teenager to alcohol. The young women encouraged Sally drink, and after doing very well in Year 11, she failed Year 12.

After a drinking session one afternoon, Sally and her friends went to a supermarket to get more alcohol. One of the other shoppers made a racist remark about the group and Sally’s friends started grabbing things at the checkout and throwing them in the woman’s direction. Sally joined in. Nothing hit the woman, but the supermarket’s property was damaged.

We first met Sally when she arrived at court for her hearing. When our lawyer on duty heard the 20-year-old’s story, she asked for an adjournment so she had time to get the full picture. She wanted to give Sally the best chance possible to avoid a criminal record, which could seriously affect her dream of studying nursing.

After watching video footage of the assault, our lawyer asked the police to withdraw a number of the charges. She also pointed out that it was the young woman’s first offence, she had no family to depend on, she regretted what she’d done, and she took court very seriously. The police dropped some of the charges and agreed to recommend a diversion program to the court.

Our lawyer suggested the diversion program include anger management counselling and participation in a mentoring program that pairs young women facing charges with a female mentor for support and advice.

At the diversion hearing, the magistrate decided to adjourn for a month before making a decision, so Sally could start anger management counselling. At the end of the month, after hearing how well she was doing in both the mentoring program and counselling, he placed Sally on a diversion program, on the condition she continue both activities.

Sally is now studying Year 12 again and following her dream to become a nurse.

How we can help you

If you have a court hearing, but don’t have your own lawyer, you may be able to get help at court from one of our duty lawyers. The service is free but we can’t help everyone, so it’s best to call us before going to court.

Find out more about diversion programs.

*not her real name