Judges’ softer serve for crims

06 Mar 2018 • The Australian, Australia (General News)
by Samantha Hutchinson


Victorian judges have issued more community service orders than any other state to criminals, including for violent offences such as sexual assault, breaking and entering and abduction.

At the end of a fortnight in Melbourne marked by violent robberies and home invasions, sentencing data shows Victorian offenders are more likely to walk away with a community service order than their counterparts in other states. Victorian offenders were also handed custodial sentences of less than one year more frequently than offenders in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

Data compiled by the ABS on criminal-sentencing trends has revealed Victorian judges and magistrates handed out more than 7200 community service orders to criminal offenders from July 2016 to June last year. This made up almost 40 per cent of all community service orders handed down by courts across the country during the 12-month period.

About 7 per cent of all offenders who were found guilty in Victorian courts were handed community service orders rather than jail time or fines. This compares with 2.5 per cent in NSW and 3.2 per cent in Queensland.

In an election year in which law and order has already emerged as the dominant issue, victims-of-crime experts and former police chiefs have said the data shows that criminal sentencing trends are not meeting community expectations.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies said: “The view of victims in general is that a community service order doesn’t provide much of a deterrent nor are they effective at taking people off the streets. But that’s obviously not a view shared by the courts.”

Former NSW Police assistant commissioner Clive Small said the disparity in sentencing trends between states could trigger a migration of crime from one state to jurisdictions that were perceived to be more lenient. “There could be an idea among crime gangs if they hear stories that police are less focused on one crime in one state, or that sentences differ greatly in one state than the other, that they decide to go there,” Mr Small said.

Victorian judges and magistrates handed out 1889 community service orders in the offence category of acts intended to cause injury. Of those, 802 offenders were ordered to serve more than 120 hours. There were 175 community service orders handed out for sexual assault and related offences in Victoria and 1056 handed out for traffic and car-related offences.

In Queensland, judges handed down 560 community service orders for acts intended to cause injury, 19 for sexual assault and related offences and 280 for car and traffic offences. In NSW, acts intended to cause injury attracted 961 community service orders, sexual assault and related offences received 19 community service orders and 1032 were handed out for traffic and driving offences.

Victoria Police is investigating at least nine home invasions committed in the past fortnight, including an incident in which a 96year-old woman was threatened by an intruder demanding cash.

On Friday, a couple in Kings Park were forced to defend themselves with a baseball bat when a group of teen thugs broke into their home by kicking down the door and demanded cash.

Attorney-General Martin Pakula said the government had reformed many aspects of the state’s sentencing guidelines – including community corrections orders and community service orders – to clamp down on lawlessness. He said the average sentence length had increased during the Andrews government’s time in office, whereas under the former Liberal government the mean prison sentence reduced.

“We have restricted the courts from using (community corrections orders) for some of the most serious crimes; we’ve created statutory minimum sentences for aggravated carjacking and aggravated home invasion; and we’ve passed legislation to increase sentences for 12 crimes, including murder and rape,” Mr Pakula said.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman John Pesutto said the changes to sentencing and community corrections orders under the Andrews government were missing the mark.

“This latest ABS data shows how soft sentencing has become in Victoria under the Andrews Labor government compared with the rest of the country,” he said. “With just under half of all people who escape prison sentences coming from Victoria, is it any wonder the law-and-order crisis gripping Victoria has attracted national attention?”

The ABS data also revealed that Victorian offenders sentenced to jail time were more likely to receive shorter sentences than criminals in other states. About 40 per cent of all criminal offenders sent to jail in 2016-17 were given a sentence of less than 12 months.

This compared with less than 10 per cent in NSW and less than 15 per cent in Queensland. The Northern Territory leads the country for short jail sentences, with more than 40 per cent of criminal offenders spending less than a year in prison. In South Australia, more than 35 per cent of jailed offenders received prison sentences of less than one year.


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