Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The proposals from both sides of NSW politics will make juvenile crime worse

By Jane Sanders - posted Tuesday, 11 February 2003

In New South Wales, both the ALP government and the Coalition opposition have been in love with Laura Norder for a long time. As another state election approaches, their relationship with Laura has grown into an obsessive and dangerous menage-à-trois.

Our government has recently introduced "standard minimum sentencing", setting out standard non-parole periods for a range of offences. For example, if you assault and injure a police officer you can expect to spend three years inside; for breaking, entering and stealing in company, you'll get five. These are generally much longer than the average non-parole periods currently imposed by the courts.

It's not quite mandatory minimum sentencing - judges may increase or reduce these terms after taking into account a list of mitigating or aggravating factors, and they may even impose non-custodial sentences in special circumstances. Nevertheless, it's a worrying assault on judicial independence, and an ill-conceived attempt to force courts to impose harsher sentences.


Of course, what the opposition offers is even worse. They see the list of mitigating factors as "13 excuses" for criminals to get away with their crimes - and propose compulsory minimum sentences for offences involving violence or drug trafficking. Their one concession is that it won't apply to juveniles.

Then there is the assault on bail. Driven by complaints from disgruntled cops who are sick of arresting and charging offenders, only to see them released on bail to do it all again, the police minister, Michael Costa, has decided that "repeat offenders" should lose their presumption in favour of bail.

The definition of repeat offenders is laughable - anyone who has been ever been convicted of an indictable offence or for the offence of failing to appear in court (as an adult or child), and anyone on a good behaviour bond, parole, probation, and so on. This would encompass about 90 per cent of the young people who use our service. These are not hard-core criminals, nor are they people who choose to thumb their noses at the legal system. They are often petty offenders - kids who have been caught shoplifting, mouthing off at police, or using drugs a couple of times, for example. Young people who have been abused, are homeless, have a mental illness or intellectual disability are likely to have criminal records because of their disadvantaged situation. Getting bail, while not impossible, is now more difficult.

The Opposition wants to take it one step further, and automatically deny bail to anyone charged with "first-degree" murder (whatever that is!), regardless of the strength of the evidence or the circumstances of the alleged offender.

Bail is not a special privilege. Nor should people be refused bail as a punishment for their alleged crime - that is supposed to come after guilt is established. But such niceties as the presumption of innocence and the liberty of the citizen are forgotten in this dumbed-down debate.

Our Premier has said that he will give police whatever powers they need to "make the streets safer". While increased police presence on the street undoubtedly makes many people feel safer, over-policing makes the streets decidedly unsafe for some groups of people. Young people (especially of Aboriginal, Islander, or Middle Eastern origin), drug users and street sex workers are among those who are routinely spoken to, searched, moved on, and - in some cases - hounded out of town.


An example is the practice adopted by police in Cabramatta, an area with a high incidence of illicit drug use and supply. Using "move-on" powers conferred on them by the Carr government in recent years, police give directions to people who they believe are in Cabramatta for the purpose of buying, selling or using drugs. Police give each person substantially the same direction - not to come within a 2km (sometimes 3km) radius of Cabramatta railway station for seven days.

If the person is found in Cabramatta again within the week, they will be given another warning, and next time they will be arrested and charged with disobeying a police direction. They will get bail, but only on the condition that they not return to Cabramatta. We have successfully defended a number of people in court on these charges. To be found guilty of such an offence the police direction must be reasonable in the circumstances - and the court has decided that these seven-day directions are unreasonable.

On one level this is a satisfying result, but it hasn't changed police practices. Drug users are still being hounded out of Cabramatta. From a public health point of view this policy is a disaster - it has driven many people into surrounding suburbs, where they are still using drugs but are less likely to be getting the clean needles, health care and social support that is available in Cabramatta.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Jane Sanders is the principal solicitor of the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, a Sydney-based legal service for homeless and disadvantaged young people. She is also an active member of several committees including the Youth Justice Coalition, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, and the NSW Law Society Criminal Law Committee. The views expressed in this article are her own.

Related Links
NSW Attorney-General's Department
NSW Law Society
Shopfront Legal Centre
Photo of Jane Sanders
Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy