The Victorian Opposition wants to scrap concurrent jail sentences for people who commit serious offences while on parole or bail, as the state continues to debate law and order ahead of this year’s election.
Concurrent sentences allow offenders who have committed more than one crime to serve multiple sentences at the same time.
Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto said if the Coalition wins government, the new rules will apply to 11 different types of crimes, including rape and aggravated burglary.
“Concurrent sentencing is far too lax in this state and too many people who offend on bail or parole just really serve a sentence that doesn’t take into account the consequences for the offending while on bail or parole,” Mr Pesutto said.
He said the changes would act as a stronger deterrent against crime.
“The reason we’re doing this is not because any of us have a desire to see prison numbers go up, our desire is precisely the opposite,” he said.
“We want to start sending signals in our justice system that are telling people to resist the temptation to commit an assault, or resist the temptation to break and enter someone’s home. We’re trying to stop that offending.”
Mr Pesutto said the policy was driven by a significant rise in re-offending by people on parole or bail — particularly by young people — as reported by Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory committee last year.
But the latest crime data, released by Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency, showed a decrease of 3419 in breaches of bail conditions for the year ending in September 2017 — from 17,218 to 13,799.
The statistics show the most recent significant increase in bail breaches happened in 2014, when the number more than doubled from 7,622 to 15,432.
That increase followed changes the then-Coalition government made to the Bail Act in 2013, to create new offences for those found to have breached their bail conditions. Those changes were relaxed in 2016.
A senior criminology lecturer from the Monash School of Social Sciences, James Roffee, described the proposed policy as a “really bad idea”.
“I absolutely understand the community’s concern here — they want to make sure that people who are committing violent crimes and continue to commit other violent crimes are going to serve longer sentences,” he said.
“It does sound like it makes sense, but unfortunately it’s going to disproportionately target a number of people in very difficult circumstances … these individuals need to be shown the right way to live their lives.
“They need to be given education and sent back out into the community with purpose rather than left in prisons for presumably even larger sentences.”
At a press conference, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said more needed to be done for victims of crime.
State Government frontbencher Jill Hennessy dismissed the policy proposal, saying when the Coalition was last in power they “botched” their bail reforms and base-line sentencing regimes.
“You’ve got to have proper planning done around any and all sentencing reforms and what we saw when they last attempted to develop sentencing reforms on the run was that they didn’t work,” he said.
Law-and-order election year
Entering its fourth year in power, the Andrews Government has faced pressure over its handling of law-and-order issues, following riots in the state’s overcrowded youth justice system and concerns about gang crime.
The Government introduced legislation to overhaul the bail system after a review by Supreme Court Justice Paul Coghlan prompted by Melbourne’s Bourke Street tragedy.
As the state heads towards an election in November, the issue has dominated political discussion, spearheaded by Federal Government MPs’ assertions that the state was seeing an “African gang” crisis.