Abolition of suspended sentences must be delayed

February 25, 2014 |

Findings of a new report by the Sentencing Advisory Council have prompted Smart Justice to call on the Victorian Government to delay the abolition of suspended sentences in the Magistrates’ Court scheduled to occur in September this year.

The report, Community Corrections Orders – The First 18 Months, shows that, after an initial uptake, community corrections orders have declined, while fines and sentences of imprisonment have continued to rise in a system already experiencing chronic over-crowding.

“This report suggests that as suspended sentences are removed as a sentencing option, courts are instead imposing fines and terms of imprisonment rather than community corrections orders. Rates of fines and imprisonment increased in the first half of 2013 as use of community corrections orders declined,” said Liana Buchanan, Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, today.

“Community corrections orders were intended to address a wider range of offending, and allow a broader range of conditions for supervision, assessment and treatment of offenders outside the prison system. It is disappointing that they are not being used more given their potential to enable offenders to remain in the community, subject to supervision and conditions, while they participate in programs to tackle the causes of their offending.

“We know the Victorian prison system is overcrowded, and that the prison population grew by 15 per cent in the past year and is set to grow by another 2,500 prisoners in coming years.

“This research suggests the abolition of suspended sentences from the Magistrates’ Court may result in thousands of additional prison terms imposed each year. This is clearly not the time to proceed with a policy that will fuel prison growth.

“We need to work together to develop evidence-based community safety strategies, not expensive and ineffective prison growth strategy. Recent US research shows many States have turned away from fuelling prison growth, and are successfully reducing prison spending as they also reduce their crime rates. Why not in Victoria?” Ms Buchanan asked.

“The vast majority of community corrections orders occur in the lower courts (7193 in 2012), and that is where alternatives to prison stand to have the most benefit for community safety.

“A previous report by the Sentencing Advisory Council shows that prison increases reoffending, so we need alternatives to prison to stop lower-level offenders being further criminalised in prison and graduating to more serious offending that actually does threaten community safety,” Ms Buchanan said.

“We call on the Victorian Government to delay the abolition of suspended sentences in the Magistrates’ Court and pursue genuine alternatives to prison where community safety is not at risk,” Ms Buchanan concluded.

Smart Justice is a coalition of 29 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres. For fact sheets on evidence-based justice policy, visit http://www.smartjustice.org.au.

Sign up