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Liberty Victoria is very concerned about the Victorian Government’s announcement on proposed reforms to the Community Correction Order (‘CCO’) regime. The reforms should be strongly opposed.
The announcement reflects a fundamental misconception that by sentencing more persons to imprisonment Victorians will be made safer.
Those with practical experience of the criminal justice system, including the Courts, have long recognised that in many cases offenders who are imprisoned pose a greater risk to the community upon release due to the harmful effects of imprisonment. That is especially the case for youthful offenders.
As the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria observed in the first guideline judgment on CCOs, Boulton v The Queen (2014) 46 VR 308:
"The CCO option offers the court something which no term of imprisonment can offer, namely, the ability to impose a sentence which demands of the offender that he/she take personal responsibility for self-management and self-control and (depending on the conditions) that he/she pursue treatment and rehabilitation, refrain from undesirable activities and associations and/or avoid undesirable persons and places. The CCO also enables the offender to maintain the continuity of personal and family relationships, and to benefit from the support they provide.
In short, the CCO offers the sentencing court the best opportunity to promote, simultaneously, the best interests of the community and the best interests of the offender and of those who are dependent on him/her."
Offenders are not receiving CCOs for offences such as murder. The Government fails to provide any examples of CCOs being given in inappropriate cases.
The fact that the Premier describes CCOs as a “slap on the wrist” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how CCOs work in practice. As noted by the former Attorney-General when the CCO regime was introduced, CCOs are not a soft option.
CCOs can involve up to 600 hours of community work. They can involve compulsory treatment conditions, such as undertaking counselling and rehabilitation or education courses. They can involve, amongst other things, non-association conditions, residence restriction or exclusion conditions, place or area exclusion conditions, curfew conditions, and alcohol exclusion conditions. There can be active judicial monitoring.
Importantly, at present CCOs can be combined with up to two years’ imprisonment. They are a flexible and appropriate sentencing option in many cases. The proposal to reduce that period to one year’s imprisonment is short-sighted.
If CCOs are breached then an offender can be re-sentenced for the original offence. Often this will be to a term of imprisonment.
If a CCO is an inappropriate sentence in a given case, then at present the Director of Public Prosecutions can and does appeal against such sentences.
This announcement follows a worrying trend. Successive Victorian Governments have followed a pattern of passing legislation to restrict the sentencing discretion of judicial officers as the independent umpire. That includes the Crimes Amendment (Gross Violence Offences) Act 2013, the Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Workers) Act 2014, the Sentencing Amendment (Coward's Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2014, the Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Sentences) Act 2014, the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment (Community Safety) Act 2016, and now the Crimes Amendment (Carjacking and Home Invasion) Bill 2016.
At the same time, parole laws have changed. That has resulted in many offenders serving entire sentences of imprisonment and being released back into the community without any supervision. Limiting the use of CCOs further limits the supervision of offenders in the community. That does nothing to make us safer; it is merely a further step towards an American style system of mass incarceration at vast public expense and of no demonstrable benefit to the community.
Victorian prisons are already overflowing and prisoners are not being brought to court as required – where will these new prisoners be held?
Further, by removing the option of CCOs for some offences, these reforms are a further step towards a more widespread introduction of mandatory imprisonment, which undoubtedly will be ratcheted up over time.
The reforms go against the research and advice of the Sentencing Advisory Council. There has been a failure to consult with relevant stakeholders.
The former Government was correct to introduce the CCO regime. Judicial officers need more, not fewer, sentencing options. That enables judges and magistrates to do justice in the individual case. There are already proper protections to ensure that inadequate sentences can be appealed against if necessary.
The reforms should be rejected. They will not make Victorians safer.