Friday, 2 October 2009

Does jail work?

That's a loaded question bound to get a few responses. It all depends on what we mean by 'work', and what we think jail is supposed to achieve.

One stated aim of jail — and any sentencing option — is to reduce offending. Surprisingly, there's not a lot of research to see if jail achieves this or not.

The Australian Institute of Criminology published a paper last week, The specific deterrent effect of custodial penalties on juvenile reoffending. (One of the authors is Don Weatherburn, Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), and renowned authority on sentencing issues.)

The tentative conclusion is that sending children to jail doesn't produce any noticeable affect on re-offending rates.

The authors were careful not to say anything more than that. No doubt they're well aware that jail, and sentencing generally, is used for other reasons too.

In Victoria, the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 s 362 provides that the Children's Court may sentence for prescribed purposes — including protecting the community — but not punishment or denunciation.

Cases such as DPP v Ty (No 3) (2007) 18 VR 241 (a 14½-year-old child convicted of murdering an 18-year-old boy by penetrating his skull with the steel tip of an umbrella), and DPP v SJK & GAS [2002] VSCA 131 (an 18 and 16-year-old guilty of manslaughter of a 73-year-old woman in her bedroom) are subject to different sentencing considerations because they are dealt with in the Supreme Court, and hence subject to the sentencing considerations in the Sentencing Act 1991 s 5(1).


MadMax said...

I have said it before and I will say it again: when a person is locked up it means they cannot commit any more crime, against anyone who is not locked up with them anyway.

I am all for rehabilitation but if that is not possible then keeping the public safe will just have to do.


Brian Furst said...

It also depends on what you mean by jail.

It seems your state is about to embark on a widespread flirtation with home detention in a desire to do away with suspended sentences.

The research elsewhere suggests that this sentencing option is only of limited value. And the community backlash from the "truth in sentencing" crowd is likely to be just as severe as it was for suspended terms of imprisonment.