Excuse me while my stomach turns at the Hun gloating over a 19 year old “thug” being jailed by a Melbourne magistrate yesterday. The young idiot, who apparently pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious injury (breaking a man’s jaw) and recklessly causing injury (hitting another man who came to help) had no prior convictions whatsoever. It is unknown what plea material was put on his behalf regarding what progress he had made in reforming since the incident.
The Hun, of course, is thrilled:
The Herald Sun has run a campaign against street thuggery and strongly supports the exemplary sentence handed down by Mr Garnett, who is so clearly in touch with community concerns.
I love the arrogant way they define “community concerns” as “what we tell the community”. A claim which is, of course, fatally undermined by the fact that they have to constantly misreport criminal sentencing to persuade readers to develop erroneous impressions on the subject.
This, from the victim in this incident, is the money quote:
“People have to realise they can’t go around bashing other people. There has to be a penalty to pay.”
Obviously that’s true. Who would dispute that sentiment? Obviously there has to be a penalty as both a specific deterrent to this particular person to make sure he doesn’t do it again, and a general deterrent to other young men thinking it might be fun to get drunk and beat up people. Violence is unacceptable, and we rely on our courts making sure offenders learn that lesson.
There also needs to be, given that the man is 19 and has no priors, an emphasis on rehabilitation – reforming him so that he can learn to be a positive member of society. The community doesn’t gain much from sending someone who’s screwed up FOR THE FIRST TIME – albeit badly – to a Bluestone College to be trained by more practised and hardened criminals in a life of crime.
There are good reasons why, under section five of the Sentencing Act 1991, prison is a last resort. It is the sentence to be imposed only if all other alternatives are simply inappropriate:
(3) A court must not impose a sentence that is more severe than that which is necessary to achieve the purpose or purposes for which the sentence is imposed.
(4) A court must not impose a sentence that involves the confinement of the offender unless it considers that the purpose or purposes for which the sentence is imposed cannot be achieved by a sentence that does not involve the confinement of the offender.
So, this is the point. Although the Herald Sun has been very successful in convincing its readers – with a mix of bland misrepresentations and misleading assertions – that the whole range of punishments short of actual time in prison are equivalent to “getting off”, that is not the case. Everything above a fine is a real punishment. None of them are fun, or enjoyable, and all require the offender to work hard to reform – or they’ll be breached and resentenced, to a tougher punishment. Unfortunately, few Hun readers understand what an Intensive Corrections Order or a Community Based Order actually entails. And, given the thousands upon thousands of words the Hun expends every year decrying the “lenient” judiciary, the fact that it never sees fit to fairly and honestly describe these dispositions is highly revealing.
The point to remember is that these other punishments are (a) real punishments and (b) generally much better at reforming criminals than prison time. (And, if you’re motivated by that sort of thing, (c) they’re much cheaper for the taxpayer.)
Now in this particular case, the factors may be so severe and aggravated that a custodial sentence is the only appropriate one that can suitably punish and deter this man and others from such conduct. But I’m inclined to suspect (given his age and the fact he had no priors whatsoever) that a strict ICO with arduous and unpleasant conditions would have a much more positive effect – training him in positive ways rather than negative ones, and ensuring that he gives back to the community rather than just being a burden on us in prison. Of course, like most readers of the Hun piece, I wasn’t in court and the only details I’ve seen are the ones the Hun has seen fit to relate. I guess we’ll see what the Court of Appeal thinks. (Be prepared for the Hun hysterically trying to whip up outrage if it does anything but increase the sentence.)
We are fortunate, as a country, that we have been sensible enough to develop other sentencing dispositions beyond simply trying to lock everyone up, first time, every time, an outcome which will only increase crime and, in the long run, assist no-one but the companies that run our prisons. By turning people away from a life of crime, remedying bad habits, addressing the causes of offending, punishing with community work that involves putting back in for the rest of us rather than just sitting in a cell doing nothing, these alternatives do a lot more to keep us safe than any number of hastily-applied custodial sentences.
The Hun’s relentlessly cynical – and dangerous – “lock ’em all up” campaigns should be viewed with extreme caution. And their arrogant declarations that they somehow speak “for the community” treated with the contempt they deserve.