More jail not a way to safety, says Liberty

Longer jail terms for serious offences do not mean a safer community but may have the reverse effect, Liberty Victoria warned today.

“They may have a simplistic appeal, especially when parties are clamouring for public attention as a State election looms, but there is no evidence that they lead to a more secure community,” said Liberty president Jane Dixon SC.

‘If the government is serious about reducing crime and making the community safer it should look at introducing measures that are targeted at the causes of crime rather than superficial and harsh responses.”

Penalties known as mandatory or baseline sentences are to be introduced into State Parliament this week.

“Victoria has already seen a substantial increase in its prison population during this electoral term, without any evidence to support the view that this will make the community any safer in the long term,” she said.

“Any move towards mandatory sentencing, where judges have less discretion, represents a failure to respond appropriately to the problem of crime.”

Ms Dixon said harsher sentences mean a big rise in the prison population, coming at a massive economic cost.    “In the long term this also increases the rate at which institutionalised prisoners are released back into the community, ill-equipped to deal with a changed society.”

She said politicians must recognise that crime is complex and multifaceted. “This needs to be understood in any response, with jail as a last resort for serious crimes. But it must be balanced in a way that gives    a judge discretion with a sentence that    is appropriate for a crime rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Ms Dixon said many people may not know that if a sentence is thought to be too low, the Director of Public Prosecutions can appeal it to the Court of Appeal. “Every sentence imposed in the County and Supreme Courts in Victoria gets reviewed in this way.”

For media comment please contact Liberty Victoria President, Jane Dixon SC or Stewart Bayles.