MEDIA RELEASE: Mandatory Sentencing Legislation

MEDIA RELEASE
Wednesday 20 June 2018

Community organisations slam the Andrews Government’s proposed mandatory sentencing legislation

  • Community and legal sector organisations are alarmed at the potential harm of the proposals outlined in the Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018 introduced into the Victorian Parliament today
  • Mandatory sentencing does not work as a deterrent and will cause unnecessary harm to vulnerable members of the community and is unlikely to result in reduced assaults against emergency workers
  • Forcing judges to impose jail sentences ignores the importance and significance of rehabilitation
  • We call on all members of Parliament to reject the bill

There is significant concern about the Andrews Government’s mandatory sentencing legislation introduced into Parliament today.    A lack of consultation with the community sector means little is known about the details contained in the proposed legislation.  However we understand that the Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018, if passed, will force judges to send people to jail for six months or more for offences such as assaulting police.     The legislation will remove some of the ‘special reasons’ which currently allow judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for offences such as assaulting emergency workers and custodial workers. Such special reasons include if an offender is between 18 and 21 but has the psychosocial maturity of a child, which often occurs as the result of serious trauma or abuse.

Meghan Fitzgerald, Lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service, said that it was astounding that the Andrews Government wanted to further restrict judges’ ability to deliver fair sentences. “From the 1970s until very recently Victoria had the lowest per capita adult prison population in Australia, but our prison numbers are now soaring, while crime rates are falling. Mandatory sentencing does not prevent crime. It sends people to jail who shouldn’t be there. We know that exposure to jail makes it more likely that a person will reoffend – so mandatory sentencing actually sets people on a path towards crime. Sentencing is an opportunity to divert that path – that’s what rehabilitation programs and community corrections orders do well. It provides an opportunity to set someone on the right path so they can contribute to the community.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the proposed laws are particularly disappointing as they undermine Labor’s work to address the underlying causes of offending and holistically tackle complex issues in our community, like family violence.

“Labor is governing by tabloid newspaper, rather than dealing with complex issues in our society. The government should properly fund programs that address the causes of offending and allow our judges to do their jobs. We call on all members of Parliament to seriously consider the significant ramifications to the Victorian community should this legislation be passed.”

Victorian Branch Chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), Associate Professor Richard Newton added:  “It is embedded in the practice of law that a person’s mental state can impact on judgement, and therefore effect how they should be held responsible for their actions if they commit an offence. Violence is unacceptable at any time, but especially when people are doing their job of providing patient care. Psychiatrists and other mental health workers are also regularly subjected to violence in the provision of care. However, the RANZCP Victorian Branch would not support changes which do not take into account all the circumstances of the case when deciding what penalty to impose.”

“More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies to effect rehabilitation. The RANZCP Victorian Branch would encourage the Victorian Government to adopt strategies that support the long term protection of the community through rehabilitation of offenders, rather than introducing harsher punishments that we know do not reduce reoffending.” 

In addition, Daniel Gurvich QC, Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association of Victoria has stated in consideration of the role of the judiciary, “some of our community are psychiatrically unwell or have the mental age of a child.  Others have suffered extremely traumatic upbringings. As a civilized society, we would expect the Court to know about these things before imposing a sentence upon them. This does not mean they should not go to jail. It does mean that those considerations should be taken into account. That is only fair.”

Domestic Violence Victoria CEO Fiona McCormack stated “DV Vic supports legal provisions that hold perpetrators of family violence to account and provide greater safety for victims.    Family violence can be extremely complex and courts must retain their ability to make decisions based on specific factors relevant to each individual case.  The Royal Commission into Family Violence found that in incidents of children committing violence against their parents the criminalisation of young offenders can cause parents to disconnect from the justice system leaving them unprotected. The Royal Commission recommended that a therapeutic rather than criminal response in these cases.

Mandatory sentencing is also likely to deter other victims of family violence reporting partners, parents or family members if they are concerned about the social, emotional and financial ramifications of mandatory incarceration.   Narrowing the scope of the special reasons provisions will further entrench barriers to reporting family violence and is contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.”

Megan Pearce from the Darebin Community Legal Centre, added “We are very concerned that these laws will have a disproportionate impact on women, particularly victims of family violence and childhood trauma.  Two Royal Commissions have shown us the life long effects of trauma and how it can impact people's behaviour.  Many women who've suffered from abuse and violence will experience emergencies in which their friends, families and community supports cannot protect them or the broader community. Keeping emergency workers safe in these scenarios requires a skilled, multi-agency response, supported by comprehensive training, not more punitive sentencing laws.”

Further information:

Claudia Fatone, Fitzroy Legal Service, M: 0403 234 156

Megan Pearce, Darebin Community Legal Centre, M: 0478 562 778

Jill Prior, Law & Advocacy Centre for Women, T: 03 9448 8930

About Fitzroy Legal Service

Established in 1972, Fitzroy Legal Service is the longest standing Community Legal Centre in Victoria providing legal advice, advocacy and education, and the only one that provides a free drop-in service, five nights a week, to all people.

Find out more at www.fitzroy-legal.org.au