Mandatory Sentencing is unnecessarily cruel, says human rights group

New mandatory sentencing laws will not make our communities safer, the human rights group Liberty Victoria warned today. The comments were made in response to Wednesday’s announcement that the Andrews government will expand the number of offences for which judges and magistrates will be banned from using Community Correction Orders (CCOs). 

“There is no evidence these changes will lead to safer communities,” said Liberty Victoria president Jessie Taylor.  “The community has the right to feel safe however every case is different and the courts are in the best position to identify cases when a CCO is an appropriate sentence. The research shows that overwhelmingly judicial officers do sentence in accordance with community standards”.

“Taking away the discretion from the courts will be counter-productive and may often lead to outcomes that are unnecessarily cruel,” Ms Taylor said. “Anyone with practical experience of the criminal justice system knows that offenders who are imprisoned often pose a greater risk to the community upon release due to the harmful effects of imprisonment. The data demonstrates that CCOs provide a valuable tool in preventing reoffending, as opposed to imprisonment which increases the rate of reoffending”.

“We call on those advocating for such reforms to meet some of the youthful offenders who have spent significant periods of their young adult life in jail. Talk to them about what caused their offending. Consider whether they have modelled behaviours and values learned from older prisoners, and ask whether mandatory sentencing is really going to make our community safer.”   

Ms Taylor added that the changes demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of how CCOs operate in practice.  “A CCO is not ‘a slap on the wrist’. It can be combined with a significant period of imprisonment. An offender on a CCO does not have the same rights as other citizens. The conditions are often onerous but compel offenders to address the underlying cause of their offending, whether they be drug abuse, mental health issues, lack of appropriate housing or any number of structural problems that increase the risk of re-offending”.

“The Government has failed to provide any real world examples of CCOs being given in inappropriate cases. Courts need the necessary flexibility to deal with each case in a way that properly balances all sentencing considerations”. 

Ms Taylor said the changes were part of a worrying trend. “Successive Victorian governments have followed a pattern of enacting legislation that restricts the sentencing discretion of the Courts. Liberty Victoria warned that this model of mandatory sentencing would be ratcheted up as part of an election year law and order auction, and that is precisely what has happened”.