Plan to make community 'feel safer': Libs

ABOLISHING suspended sentences would make the community feel safer and remove a sentencing options whose reputation is beyond repair, opposition justice spokeswoman Vanessa Goodwin has said.

Dr Goodwin said the Liberal Party would "phase out''  suspended sentences in its first term of government, if it wins the March 15 election, and replace them with other sentencing options like home detention, periodic detention and intensive supervision orders.

She said the policy would not necessarily result in more people being imprisoned, and said the full range of sentencing options would be worked out by the Sentencing Advisory Council, which has not yet been consulted.

Dr Goodwin said the Liberal Party had not conducted any consultation on the policy and denied it was based on anecdotal evidence.

``We're basing this on our belief that suspended sentences are an ineffective sentencing option that do not have the confidence of the community,'' she said.

A 2008 Tasmanian Law Reform Institute Report, which Ms Goodwin said informed the policy, found that 60 per cent of sentences in 2003-2004 were wholly suspended and 12 per cent were partially suspended.

That report found that while there was general community dissatisfaction with suspended sentences and a commonly held belief that they were ineffective, this was not supported by data: a 2004 study of Tasmanian offenders found that the recidivism rate following a wholly suspended sentence was 42 per cent, compared to 62 per cent from actual prison time. Offenders aged 18-24 were almost twice as likely to re-offend following actual imprisonment than following a suspended sentence.

Dr Goodwin said police statistics from Victoria, which began phasing-out suspended sentences in 2010 and intends to have abolished them completely by September, showed a decrease in some crimes.

However the Productivity Commission report released this week found that the Victorian prison population had increased by 12 per cent in the past three years, and the number of released prisoners returning to jail within two years had increased by 1.7 per cent.

Dr Goodwin said the Liberals Policy would not "automatically'' mean sending more people to prison, and that she was "not anticipating that there will be a huge influx of prisoners as a result of this policy.''

She said the policy had not as yet been costed, but was confident it could be covered ``under the existing justice budget''. She was not concerned at the potential cost of imprisonment rates, which in Tasmania are more than $300 per prisoner per day.

The Victorian policy is estimated to have cost $50 million, according to a recent study.

``Fundamentally, suspended sentences, we believe, are beyond redemption,'' Dr Goodwin said.

``They don't have a good reputation among the community, victims lack confidence in suspended sentences, so we want to see alternatives introduced that will have the confidence of the community and will be effective and meaningful.''


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