Attorney-General John Rau’s bill passed unamended through the Upper House late yesterday, and will be rubber stamped through the Government-controlled House of Assembly today.
It allows courts the discretion to impose home detention rather than imprisonment, as authorities struggle to deal with a burgeoning prison population.
“I think it’s a very progressive initiative,” said Rau, who has embarked on a broad review of the justice system.
But the union representing prison workers insists the measure “will not solve the current overcrowding in the state’s prisons”.
Despite opposition from the Liberals, the bill passed without amendment, with support from the Greens, John Darley and Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent.
“In spite of attempts to meddle with it in the Upper House, that didn’t happen,” Rau told InDaily.
“It’s going to give much greater flexibility with a range of sentencing options for the judiciary to deal with people who are no risk to the community… we will have broader sentencing options for judges and a range of people who can be safely dealt with in the community rather than incarcerated.”
Opposition spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the Liberals had moved amendments to ensure that “murderers, terrorists and serious sex offenders were excluded from consideration from home detention”, arguing that people who had committed very low level crimes in the latter categories would be unlikely to face jail sentences in any case.
The move formalises Labor’s shift away from the tough-talking rhetoric exemplified by former Deputy Premier Kevin Foley, who famously warned the Government would “rack, pack and stack” prisoners two or three to a cell.
In January, Corrections Minister Peter Malinauskas reflected on increasing prison numbers, saying “previously we have had members of the Government talking about racking ‘em, packing ‘em and stacking ‘em – which I don’t think was particularly helpful rhetoric”.
Foley himself agreed with that sentiment, saying: “Times change, and approaches to significant community problems are always subject to reform.”
The bill provides courts with the ability to order that a period of imprisonment be served on home detention in place of a custodial sentence, which is not permitting under current strictures.
While it does not exclude particular classes of offences or lengths of terms of imprisonment in its application, “a sentencing court will retain a discretion to be exercised upon consideration of all the relevant facts and circumstances”.
But Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin said the bill would no silver bullet. He said the union, which represents prison workers, “has sought assurances that appropriate resources and equipment are provided immediately to support members and protect the community with the introduction of these new measures”.
“This new bill will not solve the current overcrowding in the state’s prisons,” he said.
“If implemented correctly, the legislation has the potential to provide improvements within the justice system, but it is not the cure to the problems in the state’s correctional institutions.
“The issue of prison overcrowding needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
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