The NSW Pre-Trial Diversion of Offenders Program (Cedar Cottage)
Eligibility for Referral
As a result of a decision by the NSW Government not to renew the Pre-Trial Diversion of Offenders Regulation 2005, the regulation lapsed. As a result, persons charged with relevant offences after 1 September 2012 are no longer eligible for diversion. Persons charged prior to this date remain eligible.
The Pre-Trial Diversion Program (Cedar Cottage) which operates in NSW is an innovative Treatment Program for the protection of children. It began operation in 1989 and is run by the NSW Department of Health.
The Pre-Trial Diversion Program allows for certain categories of child sexual assault offenders to be diverted from the criminal justice process into a two year Treatment Program. The diversion occurs after charges have been filed but before the matter proceeds to conviction or entry of judgement. A conviction is recorded after the offender has been assessed "suitable" and enters an Undertaking at the District Court to participate.
During the two years, the offender is bound by the conditions of the Treatment Program. If the offender breaches these conditions, he will be returned to the criminal justice system for sentencing. If the offender completes the program successfully no further action against him will take place.
Pre-Trial Diversion is an alternative form of prosecution which attempts to increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Its goals are the protection of children and the prevention of further child sexual assault in families where this has occurred.
The specific objectives of the treatment program are:
- to help child victims and their families resolve the emotional and psychological trauma they have suffered
- to help other members of the offender's family avoid blaming themselves for the offender's actions and to change the power balance within their family so the offender is less able to repeat the sexual assault
- to stop child sexual assault offenders from repeating their offences
Who is Eligible?
The Treatment Program is open to a limited number of child sexual assault offenders. These offenders must:
- satisfy an eligibility test based on certain criteria; and
- demonstrate suitability for treatment at an assessment conducted by the Director of the Pre-Trial Diversion Program
The eligibility criteria assessed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions are:
- that the child victim(s) is under the age of 18 when the matter is first brought before the Court
- that the person considered is the child's parent, step-parent or parent's defacto spouse
- that the child sexual assault offence for which the person is being considered was not accompanied by acts of violence to the victim or a third party
- that the offender is over 18
- that the offender does not have a previous conviction for a sexual assault offence
- that the offender has not been offered the Treatment Program before
- whether a vacancy exists in the Treatment Program
If an offender meets these criteria he is then assessed by the Director of the Treatment Program who will decide whether he is suitable to be accepted into the Program.
The assessments by the Director of the program, or a person to whom the Director delegates the duty, will consider:
- whether participation in the Program by the offender concerned is in the best interest of the child
- whether the offender accepts responsibility for his behaviour
- whether the offender demonstrates some understanding of the impact of his behaviour on the victim and other family members
- whether the offender has sufficient communication skills to participate in the Program
In making a decision about an offender's suitability for the Treatment Program, the Director's paramount concern will be the interests of the child victims.
Services are offered to all family members including non-offending parent, child victims and siblings. Participation by any of those persons is not a requirement of the Program.
*While offenders are referred to here as "he", the Program is open to male and female offenders.
Conditions of the Program
An offender who is admitted to the two-year program will have to sign an agreement which outlines its conditions. These include:
- the offender must move out of the home in which his children live and not return unless or until the Director of the Treatment Program approves
- the offender may not live in any place where there are children under 16. The Director must approve the offender's living arrangements and the offender must agree to accept visits to his place of residence by supervisory staff employed by the Treatment Program
- the offender will not be allowed contact with his victim or other children without the written permission of the Director. "Contact" includes telephone calls, mail and messages via third parties and giving gifts
- the offender will not be permitted to visit his victim's home without the written permission of the Director
- the offender must not act violently towards, threaten or harass his children, his spouse/defacto spouse, or Treatment Program staff
- the offender must attend all therapy sessions scheduled by the Director. He may not attend under the influence of any illegal drugs or alcohol
- if the offender commits any further sexual offences while taking part in the Treatment Program he will be suspended immediately
- the offender must keep confidential the names of other offenders and their families in the Treatment Program
- the offender must agree to observe any other reasonable conditions or directions imposed by the Director
- the offender will be suspended from the Treatment Program if, in the assessment of the Director, he is not progressing
An offender who fails to comply with any of these conditions will be suspended from the Treatment Program and returned to the normal court processes for trial. If suspended from the Treatment Program an offender will be in breach of his Undertaking and liable to immediate arrest without warrant.
The principles on which the Treatment Program is based are:
- the offender must take responsibility for his actions. The first step in this process is to plead "guilty" to the criminal charge/s
- the safety of the child victim is of paramount importance in treatment decisions about contact between offender and child, the timing of family therapy and the appropriateness of family reunification
- the mother is not responsible for her partner's abusive behaviour. Since, however, child sexual assault severely damages the mother-child bond, treatment will aim to build this bond
- all family members shall be offered the assistance of the Treatment Program so that they may receive help to resolve their own emotional reactions and are better able to help and support the child
- although some families may wish to reunite, this is not a pre-requisite for joining the Program
To achieve its aims, the Program employs a number of tested treatment methods selected from clinical experience in the child sexual assault field.
Group Treatment is a very important component of the Program. Groups which operate include:
- offender groups
- non-offending parent groups
- children's groups
- mother and children groups
Family therapy is used at appropriate stages of the Program. Family therapy includes work with different parts of the family such as the mother and victim or siblings or parents. The whole family is seen together only when this is in the victim's interests and is necessary to achieve certain treatment goals.
Individual counselling is offered to family members throughout the Treatment Program. Offenders are required to attend a minimum of once weekly for individual or group therapy.
What are the Offenders Rights Under the Act?
An offender who completes the Treatment Program will not be sentenced for the child sexual offence(s) for which the offender has been convicted. An offender may be released from his undertaking given to the Court. However, he will then be sentenced. Notice of progress in treatment is provided to the offender at regular intervals and opportunity provided to address any aspects of unsatisfactory progress (if present).
How to Apply
An offender who wishes to participate must apply. This is done in the Local Court after being charged. Enquiries are also welcome at the Program at any time.