Changes to Sentencing in NSW

Back in 2011 the NSW Government asked the NSW Law Reform Commission to undertake a review of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act.  This is the legislation that sets out what sentences are available for criminal acts and the considerations the judiciary are to take into account when deciding on a sentence.

The Law Reform Commission’s report was handed to the government in July 2013.  It’s a whopper, spanning some 500 pages with a great deal of research and analysis of statistics being undertaken.

Eventually this had led to the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Sentencing Options) Act being passed (but not in force as it is awaiting proclamation).

Befitting legislation that has two sets of brackets in its title this Act makes some important changes to the sentencing options available in NSW.  Broadly speaking the rationale appears to be to eliminate options which leave an offender unsupervised, with the aim of lower re-offending rates.

With the aim of greater supervision in mind suspended sentences and good behaviour bonds are being abolished.  Home detention and community service orders are also being changed.

So what is coming instead?  Two new types of orders are being introduced, (in order of severity) a Conditional Release Order (“CRO”) and a Community Corrections Order (“CCO”).  The existing Intensive Corrections Order (“ICO”) is being strengthened and expanded.

A CRO is on the lower end of the severity scale.  This order is intended to replace good behaviour bonds and can be made with or without a conviction being recorded.  They last a maximum of 2 years.  There will be standard conditions that no further offence be committed and that the offender must appear before the Court if ordered being the order’s lifespan.  The Court can also order additional conditions such as participation in rehab, abstention from drugs and/or alcohol, association or location restrictions and/or supervision.

Next up the line is the CCO.  This is for offences that do not warrant a custodial sentence or ICO, but are more serious than a fine or lower level penalty, and they can last for up to three years.  The CCO replaces good behaviour bonds and community service orders.  It has the same standard conditions as a CRO but has more option conditions such as a community work condition, and a specified curfew.

The last step before a full-time custodial sentence is an ICO.  This is an option when a sentence of imprisonment has been ordered, but the Court has ordered that the imprisonment be served in the community.  Unlike the other two orders, an offender must be supervised under an ICO.  Along with the conditions discussed above, further conditions such as home detention and electronic monitoring can also be ordered.  ICO’s aren’t available for particularly serious offences such as murder, some sexual assault offences, terrorism related offences and others.

Apparently, more Community Corrections Officers are going to be employed (some reports say 200).  This will be essential because whilst the theory of more supervision is good, and would probably yield results, it is all for naught if there simply aren’t the resources to properly carry it out.  In that scenario we would end up with the same system we have now, just under a few fancy new names.

We wait with interest to see how this will all play out.