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Can behavioural science help offenders access programs to reintegrate into society and avoid reoffending?

8 October 2019

Behavioural issues exist in every industry, policy area and level of government. Take the criminal justice system for example. There are programs available to help offenders, but low referrals prevent these programs from reaching people who could benefit from them. This could be because people working in the justice system aren’t aware of the programs and their benefits, or they think the process to refer is difficult. Another issue is program completion rates.  

These issues were the focus of the 2019 Nudgeathon, the annual behavioural change competition in which teams from universities across Australia and New Zealand, and the public and private sector develop innovative solutions to real-life behavioural issues.

Teams applied behavioural science to come up with new ideas for increasing referral and retention rates for the Court Link and Adult Restorative Justice Conferencing (ARJC) programs. Court Link is an assessment, referral and support program aimed at addressing the underlying reasons people commit crimes. Adult restorative justice conferences bring together the victim and offender to talk about how they can address the harm caused by the criminal behaviour.

The teams came up with new and interesting ideas to increase referral and retention rates, such as:

  • adding a checklist to the police court brief to consider whether the offender is eligible for ARJC;
  • sending letters to defence solicitors highlighting how their referral rate to ARJC compares to their peers;
  • pairing offenders in the early stages of Court Link with someone in later stages to help them finish the program;
  • displaying behaviourally-informed posters in interview rooms and police stations to draw attention to Court Link and ARJC; and
  • sending a letter to victims to explain what restorative justice is.

Ideas from the five finalists included:

  • a chat bot answering questions about ARJC for police officers;
  • implementation intention plans with Court Link participants to help them work through the logistics of attending each appointment; and
  • a webinar about ARJC for defence solicitors which earns them points towards their professional development requirements.

The winner was the University of Auckland. The team pitched an idea to increase police referrals to ARJC. They suggested using messages on screensavers and a quiz on the intranet to increase positive perceptions of the program.

BETA was proud to once again sponsor this event to inspire the next generation of nudgers, and help generate ideas to tackle policy challenges. For more information on Nudgeathon 2019, visit the Nudgeathon website.