Sentencing, over-policing, STMP and crime reduction in NSW

6th Aug 2020

NSW sentencing reforms aimed to reduce imprisonment of offenders

New sentencing laws which came into effect in NSW in September 2018 have had a significant impact on sentencing outcomes, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

A major aim of the reforms was to address the growing number of offenders sent to gaol by focusing on community-based sentencing options, which include enhanced Intensive Corrections Orders (ICOs).

Along with the reforms, Community Corrections, the department tasked with supervising offenders in the community, was given a budget increase to offer more community-based programs to address offending behaviours and to reduce the rate of recidivism.

Increase in proportion of offenders receiving community-based sentences

BOCSAR’s NSW Criminal Courts Snapshot shows that in the period between 2015–2019, there has been a 56% increase in the number of offenders sentenced to supervision in the community.

At the same time there has only been a 1% increase in the number of offenders receiving a custodial penalty.

Significantly, the proportion of offenders receiving community-based sentences since the sentencing reforms have been introduced has increased from 17% in 2018, to 22% in 2019. This is in line with a decrease in the number of offenders sentenced to gaol, which in 2019 was 12,524, compared to 13,470 in 2018.

According to another BOCSAR report,[1] the current number of prisoners in NSW gaols as at the end of the March quarter 2020 was 13,525, compared to 13,635 at the end of the December quarter 2019.

It appears that the community-based sentencing options in the form of supervised orders have increased in line with sentencing reforms. At the same time, the prison population has to some extent stabilised.

Whether there will be further benefits from increased correctional resources in the community aimed at rehabilitation, addressing offenders’ behaviours and reducing recidivism will only be known over time.

How much do we spend on prisons?

In a recent report by the Institute of Public Affairs,[2] it was estimated that we are spending $4.4 billion on gaols nationwide in response to an incarceration rate that has grown by 29% in ten years.

Over the same period we have spent less on policing and in WA and the NT, ‘there are noticeably lower ratios between spending on schools and public hospitals and spending on prisons’.[3]

This appears to be at odds with the accepted position that good health and education are generally associated with reduced rates of offending.

Ultimately, it may be that reducing incarceration rates and reinvesting that money into rehabilitation programs, education, health and deterrence measures might lead to a safer society.

Police on the street and reduction in rates of crime

One way of increasing deterrence may be to have more police on the streets.

In a recent study,[4] it was found that an increase in numbers of police led to a reduction in certain crimes.

The study focused on a period between 2002–2003, when there was a recruitment drive in the NSW police service which resulted in about ten extra officers being added to each of the state’s local area commands. The study was also only limited to property theft.

The study found that with a 1% increase in police numbers there was a 0.8% reduction in theft and a 1.1% reduction in car theft, but no significant reductions in other crimes. This equates to one extra officer helping prevent 17 thefts and four car thefts each year.

Interestingly, the study found that more police did not generate more arrests; rather the reductions in theft came from the deterrence factor, rather than taking offenders off the streets.

There is also some suggestion that any additional cost of providing more police is offset by the reduction in crime and property loss.

Police and the technology at their disposal

Anecdotally there is an argument to make that we already have enough police, including all varieties of law enforcement officers, from council rangers to public transport command.

These services are equipped with the latest technology to identify known offenders and gather evidence (CCTV, DNA and data profiles).

It is this aspect of the growing powers of police that is worrying, particularly to certain groups in our society, namely young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Suspect Targeting Management Plan (STMP)

According to a report by the Youth Justice Coalition,[5] the suspect targeting management plan (STMP) used by NSW police has led to ‘over-policing’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

STMP aims to prevent crime by targeting repeat offenders and people who police believe may commit future crimes. Once someone is in the STMP system, police can continually target that individual.

The report found that STMP has been used disproportionally against Aboriginal communities and young people. Further, it may be harming relations between communities and the police with no evidence to suggest it has led to preventing crime.

Record amounts continue to be spent on imprisonment

It would appear that community-based sentencing options such as ICOs have resulted in a stabilisation of the NSW prison population.

However, we continue to spend record amounts on gaols and incarcerating offenders at the expense of other areas of government spending including policing, hospitals and schools.

There is some evidence that more police can prevent certain crimes while more funding in health and education could also lead to reductions in crime rates.

We must be careful that agreeing to more police on the beat will not diminish our rights or freedoms.

This article was first published on the Stack Law Firm website here.

Mark Warren is a lawyer in the criminal law team at Stacks Collins Thompson. He enjoys working in advocacy and in the courts. Mark helps many people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those facing significant challenges, such as drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems.

Before becoming a lawyer, Mark worked in the not-for-profit and social justice sector in media and communications roles. He spent 20 years as a television and radio journalist and reporter. Mark holds a science degree majoring in psychology and neurophysiology and an arts degree majoring in politics and Indigenous studies in addition to his legal qualifications.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: NSW Crime police technology Sentencing