The Victorian government has vowed to restrict the sentencing options available to courts in order to ensure “serious offenders” cannot avoid prison.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula says the Victorian public is sick and tired of offenders being handed lenient sentences.
“We will be legislating to ensure that there are a number of offences for which CCOs (community corrections orders) will not be an option”, he said.
What is a Community Correction Order?
CCOs are court orders which allow offenders to serve their sentences in the community, with a range of attached conditions.
CCOs began replacing traditional suspended sentences in 2012. They can be imposed as a single punishment, or in addition to a term of imprisonment or a fine.
The length of a CCO cannot exceed the term of imprisonment which would have been imposed in its absence.
All CCOs require a person not to commit further offences during its currency. Any breach will ordinarily result in being brought back to court and re-sentenced – which will normally lead to a prison sentence being imposed.
CCOs are also require offenders to report to Corrections on a regular basis, and remain within the state unless given permission to leave.
Additional conditions can include:
• undertaking up to 600 hours of community service work (up to 20 hours each week)
• undergoing treatment for drug or alcohol use
• complying with the directions of Corrections Victoria
• non-association conditions ie staying away from particular person/s;
• staying away from particular place/s,
• a curfew ie staying home between particular hours,
• going back to court to check progress, and
• paying a bond.
Use of CCOs
The government is concerned that CCOs are being used where prison would have been more appropriate.
“There have been some instances where we think the community’s expectation would quite rightly be jail is the only appropriate option,” Mr Pakula said.
The proposed change follows the release of figures by Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council which reported a significant increase in use of CCOs since suspended sentences were phased out in 2012 – with CCOs in the County and Supreme Courts rising from 17.5% to nearly 25% of all sentences, and those in the Magistrate’s Court increasing from 7% to nearly 11%.
Professor Arie Freiberg of the Council does not see the increase as a problem, arguing that CCOs are a far better sentencing option than suspended sentences because of the onerous nature of conditions which can be imposed. He disagrees with the government’s contention that they are a ‘soft’ option, and that they are being ‘overused’ by the courts.
The government is yet to list the offences for which CCOs will no longer be applicable, saying only that they no longer be available for serious crimes like “rape”, “commercial drug trafficking and incest”.
“It’s already the case that in the absolute overwhelming major of convictions for those crimes that people do go to jail,” Mr Pakula said.
The concern, of course, is that the government’s final list will include a broad range of offences for which CCOs might be an appropriate option.
If that is the case, there are fears the limiting of sentencing options will lead to a further rise in the state’s prison population, and even greater overcrowding.