Mandatory sentencing doing more harm than good

 

QUEENSLAND'S "one size fits all" mandatory sentencing laws should be reviewed because they create injustices and discourage guilty pleas, a major report by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council has recommended.

The review, which was ordered by Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath and took 18 months, examined community based sentencing, jail terms and parole options.

Among its 74 recommendations was a call to hold a separate review into mandatory sentencing, arguing it treated every offender and offence the same.

There are currently a range of Queensland offences that draw a mandatory sentence - from murder to weapons offences to graffiti vandalism.

 

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath. Picture: AAP/John Gass
Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath. Picture: AAP/John Gass
In the case of murder, offenders are sentenced to life with a minimum non parole period of 20 years.

That period is increased to 30 years if there is more than one victim, or if the person has previously been convicted of murder, or 25 years if the victim is a police officer.

"The Council's position is that, in accordance with the evidence, mandatory sentencing does not work either in achieving the purposes of sentencing in the Act, or in reducing recidivism," the report states.

"This is because, as a matter of principle, it assumes that every offence and every offender are the same, which is patently not the case."

A submission from the Queensland Police Union argued mandatory sentencing should remain in some cases.

"The QPU believes there is a place for mandatory sentencing," the union stated.

"It has long been QPU policy to seek Government commitment to introducing mandatory imprisonment for assaults on police officers and emergency service workers, including hospital staff and professionals.

"(However) the QPU recognises there will be cases where the imposition of a mandatory sentence would create a real injustice."

The QPU suggested an "exceptional circumstances" provision could be added to mandatory sentences.

The report also found that mandatory sentencing contributes to the growing problem of prison overcrowding.

"The current rate of imprisonment is higher than at any other time since 1900," the report found.

"After remaining relatively steady between 2008 and 2012, prisoner numbers in Queensland increased substantially between 2012 and 2018.

"The female imprisonment rate also grew considerably between 2008 and 2018."

Another opponent of mandatory sentencing was the Law Council of Australia, which argued it "undermines community confidence in judges to administer justice and deliver appropriate sentencing outcomes".

The report also discussed the viability of the Serious Violent Offender scheme, which requires any criminal declared as such to serve 80 per cent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

This is automatically the case if the offender is sentences to 10 years prison or more.

The report said this has led to judges giving a head sentence of less than 10 years so they can use their discretion in setting a non-parole period.

"A mandatory non parole period can also have consequences for the community, as offenders subject to these regimes will spend less of their sentence being supervised in the community and therefore have less time to receive supervision while they reintegrate into the community," the report states.