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“Unfair, dumb": Criminal compensation law change panned

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A State Government plan to hand half of any compensation given to prisoners injured in jail to the Victims of Crime Fund – even if the crime had no “victim” – has been labelled “unjust”, with claims the well-stocked fund is already tight-fisted in handing out money.

 

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Correctional Services Minister Corey Wingard yesterday announced a revamp of the Correctional Services Act, including how much compensation criminals with no claim-seeking victims are entitled to if they have been mistreated while incarcerated.

The current legislation states that if an offender is compensated more than $10,000 for injury – such as sickness or loss of property – by the courts, a victim can make a claim to access a portion of this compensation.

If there is no victim to make a claim, the amount is paid in full to the prisoner.

But Wingard plans to introduce legislation to prioritise victims over prisoners, by redirecting half of a prisoner’s compensation into the Victims of Crime Fund – even if no claim is made by a victim.

The other half would be used for the prisoner’s reintegration and resettlements costs.

“Many crimes, such as drug trafficking, do not have direct victims who can make a claim against any compensation that may be paid out to an offender,” Wingard said.

“These new laws will ensure victims are prioritised above offenders when compensation funds become available.

“Drug traffickers, for example, commit damaging crimes again the community, but often they would not have a specific victim that could claim against any payout received while locked-up.

This could possibly be hundreds of thousands of dollars put straight into a prisoner’s hip pocket.

“Taxpayer money should go towards helping victims, or an offender’s resettlement and reintegration so they do not reoffend, rather than enabling some lavish spending from a former prisoner.”

In 2017, convicted drug supplier Bruno Tassone was awarded $100,000 as South Australian courts found his diabetes worsened in prison due to diet.

The Victims of Crime Fund compensates individuals physically or mentally injured by a crime but does not compensate for property loss or property damage.

President of the Law Society of South Australia Amy Nikolovski said the Victims of Crime Fund was already well stocked, but victims weren’t receiving the full benefit.

“The Victims of Crime Fund is already flush with money,” she said.

“The problem is that insufficient compensation is paid from this fund to victims.

“Most victims who apply for compensation under the scheme receive damages that in no way reflect the level of pain they have suffered, despite the Victims of Crime Fund having ample money to afford fairer payouts.”

Prominent Tasmanian barrister Greg Barns described the proposed policy change as “punitive” as it punished the offender twice.

“Say if you get a broken jaw and a broken eye socket because you’ve got beaten up in prison – because the prison authorities were negligent or breached their duty of care to you – but were told ‘we’re going to take half your money away’, it’s just grossly unfair,” said Barns.

“One it’s unfair and unjust, but secondly it’s dumb.”

Barns added that if a criminal was deprived complete compensation it could also put a financial burden on the state.

“If a prisoner receives $70,000 in compensation that money is put away,” he said.

“They are entitled to access that money and it means they are less likely to be on social security; they are much less likely to look for public housing.

“So, in other words, they are less of a burden on the state. Why would you take away that sensible policy outcome?”

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