Federal

May 30, 2011

Mandatory jail terms for young to cost lots, fail to cut crime

Young people who commit offences of violence are generally intoxicated, high on drugs, and often have an acquired brain injury or relatively undiagnosed mental illness.

Greg Barns — Barrister and writer

Greg Barns

Barrister and writer

A few weeks ago I sent Victoria’s Attorney-General Robert Clark a link to a fascinating development in US conservative political circles.  It is a movement called Right on Crime, which is sponsored by right-wing “hang-’em-high” politicians who are now unravelling the damage that mandatory jail terms for young and other vulnerable groups of offenders has had on the social and economic fabric of the US in the past two decades.  To his credit, Clark responded the same day and told me the link was “useful and interesting”.

Clark’s announcement yesterday that he wants to introduce a mandatory two-year minimum sentence in a youth detention facility for 16- and 17-year-olds found guilty of recklessly causing serious injury and intentionally causing serious injury when committed with ”gross violence” is exactly the sort of measure that movements such as Right on Crime are dedicated to re-examining in the US.

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3 comments

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3 thoughts on “Mandatory jail terms for young to cost lots, fail to cut crime

  1. MLF

    Thoughtful post Greg. And its nice to see that the Vic AG responded to your email same day. I’ve been waiting 3 months for the QLD AG to respond to a query on sentencing which will allow a man convicted of being part of an international child p—orn ring as well as the long-term se—xual abuse of his partner’s 6 year old daughter to be out in 3 years. Ho hum.

    Anyway, I read your post and I think, yes that makes sense, yes, I agree with that ‘in principle’.

    And then I think about the victims – those who are permanently injured or killed because of “reckless.. serious injury and intentional… serious injury.. committed with gross violence”. So those “ who commit offences of violence are generally intoxicated, high on drugs, and often have an acquired brain injury or relatively undiagnosed mental illness.” And jailing them “deprives them of access to the services they need….”

    But what do their actions deprive their victims of?

    16 years old is PLENTY old enough to have to take responsibility for your actions.

    I agree that putting someone away for two years for causing the death of another person isn’t the answer if it leads to re-offences, de-socialisation etc.

    But surely the punishments should be harsher, not lighter.

  2. Mark from Melbourne

    A friend of mine who works in youth protection facilities such as Parkville says that the annual cost of holding someone is around $150,000 per annum. Apparently adult facilities (prison) cost $75k per person as there is a lot less supervision and assistance. So guess what the plan is – spend more on early intervention, education, work experience etc to keep our youth out of these places. Wrong. The plan is to work out how to get more of them into adult prisons….

    Genius at work.

  3. drsmithy

    But surely the punishments should be harsher, not lighter.

    Beating someone harder won’t change whatever it was they did.

    Figuring out why they did it, however, and trying to address that root cause, might prevent them from doing it again.

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