: Sentencing in the ACT

Sentencing in the ACT

Lorana Bartels and Anthony Hopkins

On 24 March 2015, the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety released a 400-page report on its inquiry into sentencing in the ACT. The Inquiry’s terms of reference included consideration of:

  1. sentencing practice in the ACT, its effects and implications;

  2. the ways in which contemporary sentencing practice in the ACT affects other parts of the justice system, including the courts, policing and correctional agencies, the legal profession, victims of crime, offenders and community support organisations;

  3. the practice and effectiveness of current arrangements in the ACT for parole, periodic detention, bail, restorative justice andcircle sentencing; and

  4. alternative approaches to sentencing practice in the ACT.

The Inquiry’s recommendations include that the government:
  • establish a sentencing advisory council as an independent statutory body, with responsibility to: conduct research on sentencing, recidivism, and related matters in the ACT; draw on, analyse and produce publications using data from the ACT Sentencing Database; engage and educate the ACT community on matters relevant to sentencing and criminal justice; and provide policy advice to government relevant to sentencing and criminal justice;
  • introduce an adequately-resourced intensive correction orders regime;
  • increase the alternatives to remand;
  • evaluate all prisoner rehabilitation programs and ensure evaluation is part of future program planning and delivery;
  • assess the resources required to adequately fund the Throughcare program and apply that level of resourcing to the program;
  • institute enhanced reporting on recidivism and focus on measuring performance against those figures;
  • amend the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 (ACT) to require courts to consider the Indigenous status of offenders at sentencing;
  • establish a specific mechanism for the creation of pre-sentence reports that inform courts of any relationship between an accused’s offending and his or her Indigenous status and ensure Indigenous case-workers make a significant contribution towards these reports;
  • engage the ACT Indigenous community and provide diverse sentencing options to foster appropriate pathways for the punishment and rehabilitation of Indigenous offenders and reduce rates of Indigenous imprisonment;
  • establish a drug court as a separate jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court and work towards a coordinated suite of drug diversion programs;
  • legislate to allow for the conditional release of detainees who are the primary carer of young children to serve their sentence away from the ACT prison; in the alternative, it was recommended that facilities be provided and permission granted to enable them to remain as the primary carer within the prison confines;
  • legislate to enable courts to make parole orders and set parole conditions at the time the offender is sentenced for shorter sentences; and
  • expand its restorative justice model to more serious offences committed by young people and offences committed by adult offenders.

In addition, the Committee recommended that services and programs available to sentenced prisoners be made available on a voluntary basis to accused persons on bail and prisoners on remand.

As contributors to the Inquiry and active researchers in this area, we welcome these recommendations, especially in relation to the calls for a more sensitive approach to sentencing Indigenous offenders and the creation of a sentencing council to inform lawyers, policymakers, the media and public alike. We await the government’s response to this far-reaching report.

LORANA BARTELS teaches law at theUniversity of Canberra, and ANTHONY HOPKINS teaches law at the ANU College of Law.

(2015) 40(2) AltLJ 139
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