Community Based Sentences (Transfer) Bill 2012
I rise to make a contribution to the second-reading debate on the Community Based Sentences (Transfer) Bill 2012, legislation the opposition supports. The purpose of the legislation is to allow offenders serving community-based sentences – known as community correction orders – to formally transfer their order from another participating jurisdiction to Victoria or from Victoria to another participating jurisdiction.
This legislation is a step in the right direction. The ability to transfer offenders between jurisdictions can be used as a device to fight recidivism. An offender serving a community-based order can quite easily move interstate, and various factors – whether it be family, work opportunities or just the desire to make a fresh start – may make it enticing for them to do so. This legislation will in large measure reduce this motive to move interstate. By formalising and expediting the process of transfer where relevant, the motive or enticement to move interstate should be nullified.
The interstate transfer of offenders currently operates under what is very much an informal scheme and could be regarded as a deficient system. If offenders breach their sentences interstate, options for extradition or re-sentencing are limited. A community corrections order is a flexible order that can have different conditions applied based on the circumstances of the offence, the offender’s needs and situation and the direction of the court. A community corrections order must have at least one condition based on the risk and needs of the offender and the severity of the offence.
Conditions include supervision, unpaid community work, treatment and rehabilitation, curfews, bans on entering specified areas or places, bans on entering many licensed premises and bans on drinking alcohol in other licensed premises. There may also be residential restrictions or exclusions relating to the offender’s accommodation.
In my contribution I wish to raise the impact that budget and staff cuts to the Department of Justice will have on the practical application of the legislation. The Minister for Corrections discussed the role of community corrections orders in his second-reading speech, but perhaps conveniently he did not say much about the role of the Department of Justice and the practical implications of this legislation.
We must remember that the Department of Justice has been forced to endure cuts of more than 450 staff. This is the same department that is charged with overseeing this new community-based transfer scheme.
In fact, it is the Secretary of the Department of Justice, or the secretary’s designate, who is required to determine whether an interstate sentence will be registered at the request of its originating jurisdiction, effectively transferring the sentence to Victoria.
Requests provided by the originating jurisdiction must also address the offender’s stated reasons for transfer, pre-sentence or psychological reports, and compliance and criminal records. Registration of an interstate sentence must also meet certain criteria. There must be a corresponding community-based sentence in Victoria which can effectively be administered in Victoria. A corresponding law is one upon which jurisdictions agree and which applies similar conditions.
Based on the information and documents provided, the Secretary of the Department of Justice – the same department that has been made to endure budget and staff cuts – will decide whether to register the sentence, tie it to reporting conditions or decline the request. The secretary has the discretion to decline a request even where all registration criteria are met. The offender cannot leave the originating jurisdiction until the sentence is registered. Upon registration, the sentence ceases to be in force interstate and is enforced in Victoria as if it had been imposed by Victorian courts. Penalties remain equivalent to those imposed by the originating jurisdiction.
The process of transfer out of Victoria triggers the reverse of what I have just discussed. Victoria places a request for transfer, is required to provide information on the offender and cedes registration of the sentence in Victoria. As with participating jurisdictions, avenues of review and appeal are provided for.
Under the legislation the Department of Justice is also required to carry out a test of sentence compatibility – that is, for a sentence to be registered in Victoria there must be a corresponding community-based sentence in Victoria. The Department of Justice will carry out this testing case by case. If a transfer is rejected due to the incompatibility of a sentence, the offender may apply for re-sentencing in the originating jurisdiction or may seek redress in Victoria through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Given the budget and staff cuts to the Department of Justice, the Labor opposition calls on the government to consider in the future making additional amendments to the legislation, such as prescribing a list of corresponding laws for other participating jurisdictions. This will reduce the case load of an already overworked and underresourced department.
I have highlighted some of the issues with the Department of Justice, but we must also remember the role of Corrections Victoria.
In March 2012 the Australian Bureau of Statistics published statistics showing that Tasmania saw a 30 per cent increase in community-based sentences after it became a participating jurisdiction. We must be aware that Corrections Victoria and the Department of Justice will likely see a rise in case load and management, and the cuts to staff will by no means help push this scheme through.
However, the bill will make it easier to transfer community-based sentences, and the opposition supports it for this reason. This should increase an offender’s access to services such as rehabilitation and employment and increase the number of community-based sentences successfully completed, but we must remember this will not restore the jobs cut from the Department of Justice, will not restore police numbers and will not help many of the people who are suffering.
While the opposition does not oppose the bill, it would prefer genuine measures to reduce crime, contraband in prisons and the pressure on underfunded police. In conclusion, I wish the bill a speedy passage.