Saturday, July 13, 2024

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HomeVolume 29Trivial convictions, logic defying light sentences

Trivial convictions, logic defying light sentences


I suspect that statistics will confirm many of our trivial convictions would not result in a custodial sentence interstate.

Yet all too often a light sentence that defies logic is handed down in a serious case. That fails to pass the pub test.

We are told that we were unaware of all the mitigating circumstances. Perhaps so. But when the Director of Public Prosecutions appeals a sentence as “manifestly inadequate” (Sunday Territorian May 2024), something is clearly wrong.

Whatever, the perceptions of soft sentencing renew the crescendo for mandatory sentencing.

Mix in the controversial (excessive) use of bail provisions, and you can really get an argument going.

So, on the one hand there is a view that the courts are too harsh. The social reformers, a few academics, and the unaffected in the suburbs of our major capital cities subscribe to this view, I suspect.

And on the other hand, the victims of repeated break-ins, or home invasions, regularly by repeat offenders on bail, believe the courts are too lenient.

The victims of crime are screaming at the politicians to extend mandatory sentencing. There is no doubt that the police are frustrated at arresting the same offender multiple times.

I repeat. In a nutshell, social reformers are appalled by Mandatory Sentencing, but the victims of crime are disgusted by soft penalties, and bail, handed out by the courts.

How do you begin to reconcile those two opposite, deeply held views?

Parliaments are in the middle, and it is quite easy to see how the Legislatures arrive at mandatory sentencing.

More from Google about our incarceration costs: “Australia spends more than $5 billion per year, which amounts to over $330 per prisoner per day … the per day cost of keeping a person under 18 in prison is $2700, totalling an annual cost per child of $985,500 and with 212 young people (129 are First Nations) presently in custody in NSW, the State is currently spending $208m per year on young people in prison.”

Now governments, and their Treasuries are funny things. They can produce money out of a hat to meet the ever-expanding costs of imprisonment, and hospitalisation.

If an unfortunate is sentenced by a court to prison, or hospitalised by a doctor, government just meets the cost of prison or hospital. It is non-discretional. It cannot be denied or deferred until next year or the one after. There seems to be a bottomless impress account. In other words, not programmed, therefore not “expenditure”.

It is extremely difficult to get approval to SPEND money in anticipation of a SAVING later. Like immunisation programs to save hospital costs. Or diversion programs to save gaol costs. Try asking for $10,000 now to fund a program that will save you $100,000 next financial year, and you strike the closed minds of money managers.

People who deal in numbers that add up and balance NOW do not think like that.

Not only are the costs of incarceration draining our finances, but the ineffectiveness of this practice as a deterrent is obvious.

A series of eye-opening reports published in March 2024 by the Justice Reform Initiative (which includes four former high court justices, three former police ministers and four former state premiers) said that gaoling people was deeply misguided:”The assumption is dangerously wrong. The idea that by dispatching men, women, and children to prison we are preventing them from committing further crime is deeply misguided. Instead, gaol is too often a training ground for violence, populated by a ready network of future co-conspirators.”

It is imperative that we change.

NEXT: Alternatives. Part one: Fighting crime: Is the law an ass?

IMAGE at top: Google Earth image of the Alice Springs prison. The arrow shows the recently completed juvenile detention facility at a cost of $24m. “Juvie” images in the text are from Facebook.


  1. Good on you Bob for offering some sane observations; better still some proposals that indicate vast knowledge and a realistic overview of the tragedy we are witnessing today.
    Sadly the Federal government and opposition have totally lost the plot; the NT government is required to do whatever the Feds tell them, otherwise our impossible financial debt will get bigger, reduced of GST income.
    It is courageous too, Bob. I passed some considered remarks re the VOICE referendum, suggesting it was ill-advised, guided by pampered mixed-race activists in southern states who assume that the accident of birth bestows traditional wisdom and insight.
    If only!
    As a consequence of my remarks a well-known activist publicly defamed me, saying: “It is people like Ted Egan who are responsible for our state of dispossession today.”
    I refrained from reminding her that her free, toffy private school education and her consequent six figure income for life derived from government schemes like AbSchol and AbStudy that people like you and I worked on in the late 1960s. Maa Leesh!
    Paul Hasluck is probably looking down from Eternity, satisfied that his assimilation policy has been achieved in cases like hers.

  2. Visited Alice Springs recently, as I have numerous times and I’ll kindly say that “things” have changed since I first lived there in 1969.
    Why have so many houses and businesses surrounded their properties with sky high fences and home to so many mean looking and aggressive sounding dogs?
    Could it be a sign that Alice is in need of a broad broom swept through the town to “re house” those who are offending, time and time again. NO OFFENDERS, NO FENCE!

  3. The re-vamped juvenile facility ended up costing well over $50m – not the forecast $24. The “youth offenders” have already broken out and climbed onto the roof twice in the last fortnight causing some damage.

  4. @ Simon: From memory the re-vamped facility holds 20 or so (additional?) beds. If that $50m figure is correct, that amounts to around $2m per bed. Don’t have the answers, but there has to be a lower cost way of dealing with the situation.

  5. I have a picture in my mind from a few years ago of miscreants standing on the rehabilitation facility in Darwin goading authority, then media stepping in with the human rights fraternity making them into heros and possibly benefiting them financially as happened with the spitting hood incident, a few years prior.
    And it was a feeding frenzy for the legal profession. If one thing is needed for the national and state finances its a commission of inquiry into legal costs, and not dominated by lawyers.
    How to change young attitudes? 30 years of teaching here had its highlights. A 12 year old boy throwing a chair across the room, endangering other students, and defending his actions by claiming Aboriginality.
    A 13 year old girl after abusing and wanting to accost another student, accused (and then abused) me of picking on her through skin pigmentation. I pointed out to her that my own family had the same skin colour. Her response? “But theyre not Aboriginal.” They are part Fijian.
    And so the list goes on, and how did these attitudes that we are now seeing develop? I don’t know how many others picked up on the screen flash for the “yes” vote saying “your law does not apply out here”. Where does that leave the rest of us?
    I grew up with, and was tutored by great, and proud Indigenous people in SA. I learned a lot from them, and its so sad to watch events here now, while the achievements in both cultures of many indigenous families here, ignored and not promoted as the norm.
    I once offered help to a young Indigenous man on the grounds that he could get a good job. His response ? Look at XXXXX over there. He’s got a good car and he doesn’t have a job. Why do I need a job? Q.E.D.
    [quod erat demonstrandum, meaning “that which was to be demonstrated”. Literally it states “what was to be shown”.]


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