Greens condemn government’s pre election back-flip on suspended sentences

In another display of policy back-flipping, the Brumby government has reneged on its former commitment to suspended sentences. The about-face comes as the number of prisoners in Victoria is increasing and many prisons are reaching overcapacity.

"This is an unwelcome and unnecessary development," Greens justice spokesperson, Sue Pennicuik MLC, said. "Our courts need as many sentencing options as possible, and the courts are best placed to judge where a suspended sentence is appropriate in the circumstances and particularly where an offender may have already served a significant period in custody.

"We should be looking at ways to reduce the prison population. This move goes completely in the wrong direction," she said.
 
In 2008 the Sentencing Advisory Council recommended that suspended sentences be retained until new interim sentencing measures aimed at curbing the rapid growth in prison numbers could be adequately evaluated.

"Now that the government is moving to abolish suspended sentences, it is likely that we will not receive the benefit of such an evaluation," Ms Pennicuik said. "This is not good for justice."

Critics have claimed that judges overuse suspended sentences. Predominantly, however, suspended sentences have been imposed in sentencing for a second offence of driving while disqualified. This is because this offence carries with it a mandatory prison term – judges are required by law to impose a prison sentence, and have no discretion to consider more appropriate options.

"I understand the government will be moving finally to remove mandatory sentencing for this offence, which is a good thing because mandatory sentencing is a deeply flawed concept, however, suspended sentences should also remain a sentencing option.

"It is disappointing that the government is using the issue of suspended sentences as a political football, instead of concentrating on the most effective measures to address problems in the justice system," Ms Pennicuik said.

For further comment:  Sue Pennicuik – 9530 8399

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