The profile of offenders receiving suspended sentences

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Release date: 4 August, 2011, embargo: 10.30am

Since their introduction in 2000, the use of suspended sentences has doubled in the Local Courts and risen by 60 per cent in the Higher Criminal Courts.  

Although suspended sentences are meant to be imposed only on offenders whose offence is serious enough to warrant a prison sentence, they are being used on offenders who, prior to the introduction of suspended sentences, would never have received a prison sentence.

These are two of the key findings to emerge from a study of the use of suspended sentences by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The Bureau examined the profile of 45,253 offenders given a suspended sentence over the ten-year period from 2000 to 2009 to see whether those receiving suspended sentences have different characteristics from those receiving a full-time custodial sentence of six months or less.

If courts are imposing suspended sentences on offenders who would otherwise have gone to prison, there should be few significant differences in offence or offender characteristics between those given a suspended sentence and those given a short full-time sentence of imprisonment.

The Bureau found that offenders are significantly more likely to receive a suspended sentence if they are female, older than 35 years of age, have been convicted of an offence that does not involve serious violence, theft or breaching an order, do not have concurrent convictions, do not have prior convictions and are not legally represented.

The Bureau also found a reduction between 2000 and 2009 in the proportion of suspended sentences imposed on property offenders and an increase in the proportion of suspended sentences imposed on persons convicted of driving and traffic offences.

Commenting on the findings the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn said that the current findings were consistent with a large body of research showing that alternatives to custodial sentences almost invariably end up being used on offenders who would not have gone to prison.

"Alternatives to custody rarely have any long-lasting effect on the prison population. The best way to get the prison population down is to reduce the rate at which offenders re-offend and return to prison."

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190