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10 Mar 2016

Statutes Amendment (Home Detention) Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:51 :16 ): I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment (Home Detention) Bill 2015, and I speak on behalf of my fellow Liberal members. The bill provides for an alternative penalty to a sentence of imprisonment to enable a larger group of convicted offenders to be placed on home detention. The Liberal Party will be supporting the second reading of the bill, but has filed amendments.

To achieve this end, the bill amends both the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 and the Correctional Services Act 1982. We have been informed by the government that the purpose of these amendments is to divert away from custody offenders who are assessed as at low risk of causing harm to the community, while providing a suitably intensive penalty that is serious enough to warrant restrictions on their freedom and liberty.

The Attorney submits that this bill will minimise the harm and economic loss associated with imprisonment by allowing offenders to retain community ties and benefit from greater rehabilitation opportunities. It is hoped that this will promote rehabilitation of offenders and thereby reduce recidivism by ensuring that those of low risk, or at the lower end of the scale, are not exposed to the environment of a correctional institution. The Liberal Party is supportive of this objective.

Currently, section 37A of the Correctional Services Act 1982 places limitations on when a prisoner is eligible to be released and provides a maximum period of 12 months that can be spent on home detention. The amendments contained in the bill expand the Correctional Services home detention program to allow suitable prisoners to be released on home detention earlier in their prison sentence and to spend longer amounts of time on home detention.

For example, it removes the requirement for prisoners to serve 50 per cent of a nonparole period, or a total sentence where no nonparole period is fixed, before being eligible for home detention. It also removes the limitation that prisoners can only spend a maximum period of 12 months on home detention. This will enable the Department for Correctional Services to identify a larger number of eligible prisoners who meet the suitability criteria for release on home detention under strict conditions and monitoring.

All the other eligibility criteria remain the same, which means that life sentence prisoners, sex offenders and terrorist offenders are not eligible for home detention under the Correctional Services program. The bill’s amendments also bring changes to the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act to establish home detention as a valid sentencing option for a court when imposing a period of imprisonment. Currently, if a period of imprisonment is to be imposed, a good reason does not exist to suspend that sentence pursuant to section 38 of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act; the only option open to a court is to impose a custodial sentence.

Therefore, these amendments will provide an added avenue for a court to impose a sentence of imprisonment to be served on home detention. The bill does not, however, exclude any particular classes of offences or terms of imprisonment for its application. The only prerequisite is that the sentencing court retains discretion to be exercised upon consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the individual case.

The bill lists matters that the court must take into consideration when making the determination of whether to order a period of home detention, with the paramount consideration being the safety of the community. Other factors include, for example, the impact the home detention order is likely to have on any victim, spouse or domestic partner of the defendant, or any report ordered by the court for the purpose of assisting the court in determining whether to make a home detention order.

We are informed by the government that the home detention option is only intended to be utilised for those offenders who are assessed as posing a low risk of causing harm to the community. The conditions of a home detention order under the bill are more intensive than a suspended sentence bond, while still allowing for an offender to retain ties within the community.

The offender will effectively be detained in the approved place of residence and can leave only for remunerated employment, necessary health-related treatment, or for education or training activities as required by the court. The Liberal Party is pleased that the bill creates an offence for contravention, or failure to comply with the conditions of a home detention order, which is punishable by a significant fine or further imprisonment.

I note that the Law Society wrote to the Attorney-General on 22 October 2015. The letter was written by the then president, Rocco Perrotta. I have asked the minister if, in summing up his second reading, he could address for the record the various issues raised by the Law Society—some of which are more administrative in nature—and give an indication in those circumstances the intention of the government upon enactment of the bill.

The Liberal Party has filed some amendments, and I will address those in greater detail at clause 1 in committee. The government at this point have made some submissions in relation to those amendments, and they are being considered by the opposition. We may have a more crystallised view when we reach the committee stage in the following sitting week.

The amendments of the opposition seek to restrict the discretion of the court to provide for home detention for murder, serious sex offenders and terrorist offenders. I flag that, in part of the government’s submission, it is perceived by some that this might be an unnecessary restriction on the discretion of the court. We will have an opportunity to debate that in the committee stage. With that, I commend the bill. Again, we will support the second reading, and I look forward to the committee stage.

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