If I may quote from Greg Barns’ excellent response in yesterday’s Crikey to the new Victorian Premier’s foolish scheme to make our community more dangerous by abolishing suspended sentences and implementing mandatory minimums, thereby taking resources away from programs that actually reduce crime in order to lock more people up:
Both these polices will result in there being less capacity for the DPP and defence lawyers to cut deals that benefit the community. Why would a person accused of a crime agree to plead to a charge on the basis that if he or she is convicted they face certain jail because the courts hands are tied behind their back by a bunch of law-and-order zealots and their mates in the victims-of-crime lobby? Why not simply go to trial and see if a jury convicts you. This is exactly what happens in the US where similar laws have been part of the legal landscape for many years.
The Baillieu government’s plans also throw a gauntlet down to the judiciary in Victoria. What Baillieu and his would-be Attorney-General Robert Clark are saying to the courts is this — we expect you to send someone to jail for a long period of time even through to do so would be cruel and unjust. Take a young offender who is a small part player in a drug trafficking exercise. He is charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of drugs and faces a minimum of 10 years in jail under the Baillieu plans. This young person has no prior convictions, is battling an addiction to drugs and has simply been duped into participating in a criminal enterprise.
As for whether locking people up will reduce crime – no. In fact, most likely the reverse:
…The most important flaw in the Baillieu plan is that crime rates will not be reduced by sending more people to jail. In fact there is a direct correlation between increased prison numbers and rising crime. There is a wealth of data from the US and Canada that supports this thesis.
One reason is because the cost of incarceration and building new prisons means there is less money available for preventative programs such as those dealing with youth at risk or behavioral counseling facilities. Another reason is simply that jailing people, particularly for lengthy periods, increases the chances of them re-offending within two years of release.
One of the first acts of the new Victorian government will be to waste more public money achieving less. Bravo.