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July 30, 2013

LNP GOVERNMENT UNDERMINES JUDGES BY A PROPOSAL TO SCRAP COURT ORDERED PAROLE AND SUSPENDED SENTENCES

by dankrogers

Today’s article in the Courier Mail “Go Direct to Jail” discusses the Attorney-General’s plans to scrap Court ordered parole and suspended sentences. The Attorney-General, in what can only be described as an ill-considered and vote grabbing move, has indicated his intention to scrap Court ordered parole and suspended sentences. The Attorney argues that the current system is failing in that too many people released on suspended sentences or immediate parole are reoffending and therefore, sentences imposed by the Courts are not acting as sufficient deterrents.

This move by the Attorney-General only underscores his lack of knowledge over the Queensland Criminal Justice system.

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that, for a person released on Court ordered parole, they are subject to very strict parole conditions which, if breached in any way, result in the person’s immediate return to prison without passing a Court. He ignores the fact that existing parole conditions are onerous including requirements that a parolee must see their parole officer regularly, receive visits at their home, submit to drug urine analysis, not leave the State of Queensland, engage in counselling, not commit a further offence and comply with all reasonable directions of a parole officer. If they breach any of these conditions in any way they are immediately returned to a prison for a minimum of 28 days and usually much more.

The existing parole framework and the strict requirements for parole ensure that a person is well supervised, personally deterred from committing further offences and importantly, gives people the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the community. There are already sufficient safeguards in place to ensure recidivist offending is met with harsh realities which include the immediate return to prison. This is most beneficial to the community. In a similar way, a suspended sentence is breached upon a person committing any offence punishable by imprisonment. This would include minor offences such as public nuisance and drink driving.

The problem with scrapping Court ordered parole and placing all of the power in the hands of a Parole Board is that inmates, particularly young people who deserve an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, spend unnecessarily long periods of time in custody for no good reason and at huge taxpayer expense. It is proposals like this that result in the LNP having to close schools and sack nurses.

Current problems in the Department of Corrective Services, with the lack of available programs, will mean that people will sit in jails for long periods of time awaiting a placement on programs where their completion of that program is a prerequisite to them being released on parole. This is inherently unjust and unfair.

The idea of going direct to jail, for all offenders, is narrow minded. Young people will suffer the most. The Queensland Court of Appeal has, for a long time, recognised that jail is unlikely to have any rehabilitative effect and is in fact harmful in that it introduces young people to hardened criminals whom they might not otherwise meet and to hard drugs and it may subject them to the risk of injury or degrading conduct (R v Hamilton [2000] QCA 286).

For the Attorney to ignore the practical realities of the proposal that he so carelessly puts up demands criticism. The only hope is that the Attorney, in considering such a fundamental shift in the way Corrective Services and the Courts operates, engages in thorough and widespread consultation with lawyers and community legal centres who actually work in this field. Such consultation, with all key stakeholders, is the best way to ensure that the Attorney realises the inevitable problems arising from this law reform agenda.

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