NSW to review weak sentencing of criminals
SUSPENDED sentences could be scrapped by the State Government because of concerns courts allow too many serious offenders to escape jail. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has ordered a review of suspended sentences after the number handed out by judges and magistrates tripled over the past decade.
More than 6400 criminals convicted of assault, robbery and drug dealing last year received suspended sentences, in which a jail term is deferred on the condition there is no re-offending. The Government is looking to follow the lead of Victoria where the sentencing option is being abolished for all but the most serious of crimes.
The review will be carried out by the NSW Sentencing Council. It will be headed by council chair Jerrold Cripps, QC with advice from Justice James Wood, Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham and police Assistant Commissioner David Hudson.Mr Hatzistergos said suspended sentences were designed to denote the seriousness of the offence while giving offenders the chance to rehabilitate in the community.
"This review will determine whether suspended sentences are meeting these objectives," he said. "It will also examine the use of suspended sentences for offenders who would have otherwise been given a bond.
"Importantly, it will consider the views of victims of crime, for whom a suspended sentence can be a confusing outcome when they are expecting the offender to go to jail."Suspended sentences can be issued by the courts to people convicted of crimes that carry sentences of up to two years.
But evidence shows that instead of being issued as an alternative to jail, they are being handed down in place of periodic detention and community services.
Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show 5983 suspended sentences were handed down in the lower courts last year and 489 in the higher courts. Eleven people convicted of manslaughter and driving causing death were given suspended sentences. They were also handed down to 113 people convicted of sexual assault, eight who were involved in kidnapping, 334 for burglary, 301 for importing or exporting drugs and 1644 for traffic offences.
In about half the cases, offenders walked free from court without supervision orders.
Suspended sentences were scrapped in the mid-1970s but reintroduced under Bob Carr in 2000. Critics of the sentencing option claim suspended sentences were designed for "middle-class offenders" as the conditions simply required those being handed them to obey the law, as required by the rest of the community.
Victims of Crime Assistance League vice-president Howard Brown said suspended sentences had been handed out inconsistently by the courts and should not be given to perpetrators of violent crime. "There is a place for them, but they've been given inconsistently," Mr Brown said.