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Government welcomes Sentencing Advisory Council Report on Alternatives to Suspended Sentences

The Hodgman Liberal Government has had a long-held position that suspended sentences are an ineffective sentencing option and should be replaced with a wider range of alternatives.

The Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) report released today has confirmed the problematic nature of suspended sentences and proposes a range of alternative sentencing options.

The SAC has comprehensively examined the use of suspended sentences and proposed a new sentencing model to replace suspended sentences. Public and stakeholder feedback is now sought on the proposal.

Two reports have been released which address the terms of reference of the referral made to the Council in July 2014 asking it to examine how to phase out suspended sentences in Tasmania.

The phasing out of suspended sentences is a key election commitment of the Hodgman Liberal Government. The Government’s view remains that suspended sentences are an illogical, inadequate and ineffective sentencing option.

The SAC’s background paper examines the use of suspended sentences in Tasmania and other Australian and overseas jurisdictions. It also examines current breach and recidivism rates for suspended sentences in Tasmania.

The SAC’s analysis found that Tasmania’s use of suspended sentences is higher than in all other Australian jurisdictions. For example, in the Supreme Court in Tasmania in 2013-14, 37.9% of offenders received a fully suspended sentence (FSS) as their principal sentence compared with the national average of 16.7%. Tasmania’s Magistrates Court also had the highest use of FSSs in Australia.

In relation to breach rates, the Council found that for FSSs in the Supreme Court, as at 30 September 2014, 34% of offenders had breached their sentence by committing an imprisonable offence. Despite reforms to suspended sentences in 2009 to try an address a lack of action on suspended sentence breaches, still only 55% of the offenders who breached their sentence were subject to breach action. The SAC notes that: ” the failure to institute proceedings in almost half of all breached cases (45%) continues to undermine both the legitimacy of this sentencing measure and the potency of the legislative presumption of breach activation”(page 48, background paper).

In the second of the two papers, the consultation paper, the SAC outlines a preliminary approach to a new sentencing model for Tasmania to accompany the phasing out of suspended sentences. The new model includes a number of additional sentencing options including:

• An expanded drug and alcohol treatment order;
• A new community correction order;
• A home detention scheme; and
• The power to defer sentencing to allow an offender to address the causes of offending and participate in restorative justice programs.

The Government acknowledges the importance of an appropriate phase in period to ensure that any new sentencing options are utilised as an alternative to suspended sentences.

The SAC has also indicated that additional work is being undertaken on the resource implications of the draft recommendations outlined in the paper.

The SAC invites submissions on the proposed package of sentencing reforms. A copy of both papers and information is available on the Council’s website at www.sentencingcouncil.tas.gov.au/phasing-out-of-suspended-sentences. Submissions close on 2 October 2015.

The SAC will then provide a final report to Government after which we will make a final decision on the alternative sentencing options to be implemented with the phase out of suspended sentences.

This is a key election commitment of the Hodgman Liberal Government and we are pleased to be progressing this important reform to give the community more confidence in the justice system.
Vanessa Goodwin, Attorney-General

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