Madison's story - helping a young person at a crossroads avoid a criminal conviction

While hanging out with a group of friends, a few bad decisions led to Madison facing criminal charges for the first time.

At just 17 years old, this put Madison at a crossroads: a criminal conviction could hang over her head and negatively impact her for the rest of her life, but early intervention and a second chance could provide her with the support she needs to engage with her future and avoid re-offending.

One thing Madison knew she could count on was the support of her school - St Joseph's Flexible Learning Centre in North Melbourne, where IMCL's Youth Outreach Lawyer (YOL), Libby, attends on-site to provide legal education and assistance to students.

As soon as St Joseph's learnt about her situation, they referred her to Libby for direct legal help.

'[Having a lawyer at school] is new to me, and it's a good thing. I feel comfortable and trust the people working there,' Madison told us about the YOL program.

'You feel like you can ask the questions you really want to ask.'

Although serious, these were the first offences that Madison had ever been charged with and she had already taken positive steps to change her behaviour. Libby also knew how a criminal conviction at such an early age could unfairly and irreversibly impact the direction of Madison's life, affecting things like her employment prospects and ability to travel.

With this in mind, and with the support of St Joseph's, Libby requested that Madison's matter be referred for diversion, a court scheme that gives people who are interacting with the criminal justice system a second chance by dismissing the charges and avoiding a disclosable criminal record.

After several negotiation attempts with police and following written submissions by Libby, the police Prosecutor and Magistrate eventually agreed to Madison completing a Diversion Plan. The plan is focused on providing her with support rather than punishment, with the opportunity to reflect on her actions and what she learnt from her experience with the justice system and to apologise to the victim.

Speaking to IMCL, Madison's mother stated that since learning this, '[Madison] was much happier and it was like a weight had been lifted.'

Madison herself felt well-informed throughout the progression of her case thanks to Libby's good communication, telling us that 'It was really easy to talk to the school lawyer. It was during COVID, so we spoke over the phone and Libby always double-checked that I understood what was happening and where my matter was at.'

Relieved with how her case turned out and feeling confident in moving forward in her life without a conviction holding her back, she is now focussed on looking for a job.

'If there wasn't a lawyer at school, things probably wouldn't have turned out as they have. I probably wouldn't have reached out and wouldn't know where to go.'