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End to suspended sentences counterproductive

Briefs

Cite as: June 2013 87 (6) LIJ, p.17

Legislation has been introduced into Parliament to abolish all remaining suspended sentences in Victoria.

The move angered Smart Justice, a coalition of leading legal and community groups – including the LIV – which believe the move will prove counterproductive and lead to an expensive and unsustainable increase in the prison population.

The new laws will see the sentences phased out from the Supreme and County Courts no later than 1 December and abolished no later than 1 September 2014 in the Magistrates’ Court for offences committed on or after those dates.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said the legislation completed the delivery of the Coalition government’s election commitment to abolish suspended sentences for all crimes and “a key component of the government’s reforms to ensure stronger and more effective sentencing that will better protect the community”.

“This will bring an end to the fiction of suspended sentences in Victoria, so that in future jail will truly mean jail.”

Suspended sentences were abolished from 1 May 2011 in the higher courts for serious offences including murder, rape and other serious sexual and violent offences, and for the significant offences of aggravated burglary, arson, recklessly causing serious injury and commercial drug trafficking.

A suspended sentence is a prison sentence that is not put into immediate effect and allows a judge to decide that the offence is serious enough for a jail term, but in the particular circumstances of the case, some or all of the imprisonment should be suspended.

While the laws were welcomed by victims of crime groups, the LIV had been against the abolition of suspended sentences since the plans were first announced by the now Coalition government before the last state election.

Smart Justice spokesperson Michelle McDonnell expressed disappointment with the final legislative death-knell for the sentences.

“Abolishing suspended sentences is likely to lead to a costly and unsustainable increase in the prison population without tackling the causes of crime,” Ms McDonnell said.

“Giving judges the option of imposing suspended sentences in appropriate cases makes much more economic sense because suspended sentences are effective, provide a wider scope for rehabilitation and treatment and are much cheaper than prison.”

The LIV submitted arguments to government in 2005 and 2007 against the abolition of suspended sentences and campaigned heavily following the current Coalition government’s announcement that they intended to phase them out within their first term.

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