Victoria’s Sentencing Amendment (Abolition of Suspended Sentences and Other Matters) Act 2013 has abolished suspended sentencing for offenders of crime tried before the County Court or the Supreme Court from the beginning of September 2013 onwards. This move has not gone without a certain degree of criticism from the legal community as well as sociologists.
Attorney General, Robert Clarke, has stated that this would be the first stage of the Victorian Government’s promise to be tougher on crime:
“From 1 September 2013, any crime serious enough to be heard in the County Court or Supreme Court will no longer be eligible for a suspended sentence. This will include crimes such as culpable driving, serious theft and fraud and various drug trafficking offences.”
Suspended sentences have already been abolished for offences committed on or after 1 May 2011 and sentenced in the Supreme Court or County Court, including murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious sexual offences, armed robbery, intentionally or recklessly causing serious injury, aggravated burglary, arson and commercial drug trafficking.
This month’s second stage sees all remaining suspended sentences abolished in the Supreme Court and County Court for offences committed on or after 1 September 2013. The remaining stage, to commence no later than 1 September next year, will see suspended sentences abolished in the Magistrates' Court, bringing all suspended sentences to an end.
The Law Institute of Victoria has criticised this approach as one that overlooks the reality of the role suspended sentences play in the judicial process and the value they bring to rehabilitating offenders. Further, it ignores the reality of an overcrowding Victorian prison that could lead to decline in conditions that could place both correction staffs as well as prison inmates in greater jeopardy. The Institute goes on to emphasise the need for flexibility in sentencing in situations where custodial sentences may not be appropriate.
James Podmore, Professor of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, fears that mass incarceration could quickly lead to a punitive jail system where the goal would be to not let anyone out rather than rehabilitation. He stresses that political rhetoric and general public responses have persuaded courts to pass custodial sentences internationally and should be the approach adopted rather than an inflexible legislative approach.
The full effects and ramifications of the abolition are yet to be seen.
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