Dodgy DoJ survey designed to trick Victorians into calling for harsher sentencing

You’re a conservative government that wants to build more prisons. You know that all the research on sentencing – the detailed studies undertaken by the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council – show that, contrary to the impression given by the tabloid media, when informed of all the facts in a case, Victorians prefer lower sentences than actually imposed by Judges.

What do you do?

You commission a one-sided survey with highly misleading questions, designed to get the answers you want. You put up scenarios that do not include any mitigating factors (but several aggravating factors), you leave respondents to guess as to whether the person has similar priors or not (as if it’s not highly relevant to sentencing), you do not give any context in terms of what will be likely to reduce reoffending, you give the maximum sentence available under the law but not the current average for that offence, and you give no context in terms of recidivism rates under the various sentencing options (corrections orders vs jail).

And then, because with those massive distorting factors, that survey will inevitably give results that wrongly indicate that current sentences are less than the public would (when informed of the facts of a case) really want to impose, you clod around in parliament increasing sentences and adding mandatory minimums and removing sentencing options and, in general, prejudging cases in advance – and, well, benefit in whatever way that helps you. Pleasing the Herald Sun, pleasing donors who build and run prisons, looking like you’re doing something about crime (that will, conveniently, probably get worse as you train minor offenders in prison to be more serious offenders, thereby prompting the building of more prisons, ad infinitum), enjoying the satisfaction of putting poor people behind bars. I don’t know – I’ve never quite grasped why locking someone up is such a vicious pleasure for people not motivated wholly by revenge.

The problem: people when fully informed did not follow the tabloid “we want tougher sentences” script.
The solution: take out the “being fully informed” bit, trick citizens into thinking they support tougher sentences than they actually do.
The result: more people in prison for longer – huge increase in public expenditure on prisons; significant increase in crime; more lives ruined.

That’s what the Liberals mean when they talk about “law and order”.

ELSEWHERE: The Law Institute is very concerned about any reliance whatsoever being placed on this highly-flawed online “survey”. Tim at 5 Star Laundry is similarly appalled.

They might as well just do sentencing by Herald Sun voteline poll. Oh, hell, I’ve just given them an idea.

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11 responses to “Dodgy DoJ survey designed to trick Victorians into calling for harsher sentencing

  1. narcoticmusing

    The recent case of the manslaughter charge being suspended is a perfect case in point – it took into account the circumstances of both the crime and the criminal. It would be completely disproporitionate to the quasi-accident nature of a car crash (quasi in that the driver had broken a law resulting in the crash, but certainly no malice or intention to harm anyone) for a person who is a quadraplegic to then be imprisoned. Even the victim’s family agreed.

    Judges are inherently sensible people. Do they sometimes make bad decisions? Sure. Are their decisions mainly sensible? Yes.

    If we are worried about sentences (which have actually already been getting longer, not shorter) than we should be looking at the Court of Appeal, which almost always reduces a sentence on appeal. There is often a sense/perception of injustice in this, but the original sentence is normally pretty strict.

    PS I also hate the idea of removing suspended sentences. They form a valid and at times crucial part of a judges tool kit.

  2. Any private prisons in Victoria?

    How is their revenue going?

    DO they have lobby groups?

    Do they donate to political parties?

  3. Pingback: Victorian government: Sentencing policy by SurveyMonkey « 5 Star Laundry

  4. Richard Ackland has a good piece in the SMH about who actually ends up behind bars.

  5. I had a look at the survey. It got me so freaking irritated I had to leave it after three scenarios. The first scenario was a drug dealer who thought he was robbed by a customer, and who murdered the customer in retaliation. The summary was extremely brief. There was so much more that I would have wanted to know. Was the drug dealer drug-affected or mentally ill at the time of the offence? What was the evidence against him? From my point of view, it was almost impossible to give any fair sentence – I needed far more information. But there wasn’t an option for “I need more information to hand down a fair sentence.”

    (Of course, I’ve read those sentencing reports too – but as someone who worked in the courts for a number of years, I have first hand experience of how one’s perspectives change when one has more information).

    So, shortly, I concur with your post.

  6. narcoticmusing

    Legal Eagle – surely you aren’t implying that something as irrelevant as ‘facts’ and ‘information’ are required to sentence? How would we be able to give mandatory sentences to please tabloids if we had to consider the facts and circumstances of every case?

  7. Question 1 – Murder.
    I put “Fine”. Will I get a visit?

    btw – why arent CBO’s, orders for counseling, and Diversion orders in the options? Don’t we still have those?

    Surely a typo?

    Any private prisons in Victoria?
    How is their revenue going?
    DO they have lobby groups?
    Do they donate to political parties?

    Yes, Raking It In, Yes, and Wouldn’t You?

  8. Pingback: Skepticlawyer » Sentencing by plebiscite

  9. Pingback: The Tabloid Justice Consultation « Balneus

  10. There was a case in Iraq (I think) recently where a guy deliberately threw acid in the face of a girl who didn’t want to marry him. She was severely injured, blinded and mutilated. The law meant he would also be blinded (the literal “eye for an eye”).

    After a good deal of soul-searching, she said she’d decided to “follow the Koran’s recommendation on mercy” and pardon the guy. She said she didn’t think blinding him would serve any useful purpose. He had spent time in detention and was already extremely remorseful, but more importantly, she believed the publicity about this case would make people think before they hurt someone else like that.

    This really comes down to what we are trying to achieve with our justice system. Are we protecting society and reducing crime in general, or are we motivated by fear and greed?

    What you don’t see in the mainstream media is that stats for violent crime have decreased markedly and continually in recent decades. I was really surprised to find that out a little while back, after so many years of seeing doom-and-gloom stories in the media. The impression (deliberately created?) is that crime is rampant and continually growing.

  11. Pingback: Misleading voters is not “democratic”, Alan. | Pure Poison

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