NSW Premier Morris Iemma and the Liberal opposition in that state are hoodwinking their community by supporting mandatory minimum sentences. Iemma’s weekend announcement that he was adding more categories of offences to the mandatory minimum sentencing regime, supported in principle by the Liberal’s shadow Attorney-General Greg Smith will do nothing to reduce crime rates and to make NSW a safer place.
Mr Iemma has added the offences of child murder, recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm, car rebirthing, large-scale drug cultivation, possession and supply, and illegal firearms dealing and possession to the list of offences in NSW law for which judges and magistrates must set a mandatory minimum jail term.
And why? Well certainly not because mandatory minimum sentences work. Can Mr Iemma or Mr Smith name one authoritative study of mandatory minimum sentencing that supports the thesis that they actually reduce crime? I doubt it. In the land where the mandatory minimum sentencing fad began, the US, study after study has demonstrated that not only do they not work.
Veritable bodies like The Rand Corporation, the General Accounting Office (similar to our Auditor-General); the United States Sentencing Commission and the National Academy of Sciences Panel have all confirmed that mandatory minimum sentences undermine the community’s faith in the sentencing process.
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That’s because these sentencing regimes lead to unfair results, and because jurors in the US become reluctant to convict people where they know the penalty they face on conviction is draconian in the circumstances. And prosecutors do more and more plea bargaining with defence lawyers to ensure that defendants don’t have to face the injustice perpetrated by mandatory sentencing.
In fact, there have been a number of opinion polls in the US in recent years indicating that the public thirst for mandatory minimum sentencing is definitely on the wane. And in Canada, the results are similar.
What’s the bet that Mr Iemma and Mr Smith know all this – a five minute Google search would be enough to inform them. So why ramp up the scheme in NSW? Presumably because ill informed and prejudiced shock jocks and newspaper columnists will give them brownie points for “doing something about crime”. Pity that the community is being fooled at the same time.