THE Law Society has warned abolishing suspended sentences will double the state’s prison population and push it to “breaking point”, but the government says the policy will lead to better punishment of criminals.
The Sentencing Advisory Council has released a report recommending the phasing out of suspended sentences over five years, with the introduction of new punishments such as home detention, extended drug treatment orders and the possibility of a drink driving court.
Fines, community correction orders and deferred sentences will also be available to the courts.
SAC chairman Arie Freiberg said suspended sentences were perceived by the public as a “slap on the wrist”.
“They are used as a threat by the courts,” Professor Freiberg said. “It is in fact a dishonest way of sentencing,” he said.
Professor Freiberg said if suspended sentences were removed as an option it had been proved elsewhere that courts do not instead send people to prison. He said of the 5700 suspended sentences dealt out in Tasmania over a few years, less than half would go to jail.
“It would depend on the number and type of offences that come before the courts over the next few years,” he said.
He said offenders would find punishments such as drug treatment orders “very intrusive”.
Attorney General Vanessa Goodwin said the new sentencing options provided greater supervision of offenders.
“I don’t think the public expect people to go to prison – they expect people to receive a punishment which matches the gravity of the crime,” Dr Goodwin said.
Law Society of Tasmania president Matt Verney said the cost of implementing the policy, which has been estimated at $10 million, would be much higher.
“We haven’t heard any committment from the government that they are going to properly fund these alternatives,” Mr Verney said.
Mr Verney said it was “inevitable” the policy would lead to a prison population increase.
“Even a small percentage [of 5700] is a doubling of the population, we already know the resources in the prison are very stretched,” he said.
“To double the occupancy would stretch it to breaking point, that’s inevitable.
Australian Lawyers Alliance Tasmania president Henry Pill said the plan would not have the desired effect and would waste taxpayer dollars.