The use of suspended sentences


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Release date: 22 ndJuly 2010

The use of suspended sentences is growing rapidly in NSW, according to a new report released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Rather than being used as an alternative to imprisonment, however, they are frequently being used in place of sanctions such as community service orders and periodic detention.

The Bureau examined trends in the use of suspended sentences and other sanctions between 1994 and 2008. Since they were re-introduced to NSW in April 2000, the use of suspended prison sentences has tripled in NSW Local Courts and more than doubled in NSW Higher (District and Supreme) criminal courts.

In Local Courts, the proportional use of full-time custody decreased slightly after the introduction of suspended sentences (from 23.5% in 1999 to 20.2% in 2008) but the main change was a decline in the use of Community Service Orders (CSOs).

Whereas 20.4 per cent of people received a CSO in 1999, this had decreased to 11.5 per cent by 2008. The proportion of people receiving periodic detention also decreased markedly in the Local Courts following the introduction of suspended sentences (from 5.4% of penalties more serious than a fine in 1999 to 2.4% in 2008).

In the Higher Criminal Courts in 1999, 77.1 per cent of convicted offenders received a full-time sentence of imprisonment. By 2008, this had declined to 74.9 per cent. Once again, however, the main change was a reduction in the use of CSOs.

In 1999, 9.1 per cent of offenders dealt with by the Higher Criminal Courts who received a non-fine penalty, received a CSO. By 2008, the use of CSOs in the Higher Courts had all but disappeared (1%). The proportion of people receiving a good behaviour bond also decreased, from 13.9 per cent in 1999 to 7.1 per cent in 2008.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that suspended sentences appear to be being used in circumstances where a sentence of imprisonment would not have been imposed.

"This seems to run counter to the legislation governing the use of suspended sentences."

"Under the legislation governing their use, before imposing a suspended sentence a court must decide whether the crime warrants a sentence of imprisonment. Only if imprisonment is deemed to be appropriate can a judge or magistrate decide to suspend the prison term."

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn, 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408
Copies of the report in pdf