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.