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Sentencing Amendment (Breaches of Home Detention Orders) Bill 2023

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 18 October 2023

Tags: Justice, Corrections, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens are happy to support this bill. It is an extension of the bill that we supported when it came to this place in 2019. We supported it because home detention orders provide a cheaper, safe and more therapeutic rehabilitative alternative than prison. They are far more effective as rehabilitation for people because of the connection people can have with the community, and the relationship they can maintain with family or the people they live among, and the community of people who can visit them or that they can visit within the range of the monitoring device which is attached to them. While this is correctly recognised to be a less punitive measure than a prison sentence, it is highly effective as a deterrent. It is not a soft option.

We have all had the experience to some extent of being locked down during the COVID 19 period. Depending on what part of the country you were in, some people were locked down for longer than others. Everyone would understand the experience of not being able to circulate with people in the community and the serious loss of liberty from being confined to your home or small area around the home. For some people it had a severe mental health effect.

Contrast that with being in a prison environment. Unfortunately in today's Liberal-managed Tasmanian prisons many people are locked down, not infrequently. There are a lot of lockdowns in Risdon Prison and people are confined to their cells. It is a much less restrictive practice, nonetheless it does what it needs to do, it allows people to be confined as a form of punishment because of the actions that they have taken. It is a consequence which is strong and effective. It allows for some capacity for rehabilitation. For all of those things, the Greens supported the legislation in the first place.

When this legislation came to this place in 2019, I raised the question about the risk of electronic devices being removed or tampered with. It has obviously happened even though the minister says there have only been a small number of offenders. It could be like possums trying to break into your vegetable patch. They never do it and then suddenly one of them works out how to do it and word gets around. I would not be surprised that if someone has done it, other people might work out how to do it pretty quickly.

We support it being an offence to tamper, damage or disable an electronic monitoring device and the extra offence of anybody who is an accomplice or involved helping to tamper with an electronic device.

I would like to hear more from the minister about some things he mentioned in his second reading speech. The bill enables a warrant to be raised to arrest an offender who is under a home detention order if the magistrate or justice believes that the offender has breached, is breaching, or is about to a breach a condition of the order. I am not quite sure how that would be determined. Maybe you could explain that, minister. Possibly it could because there have been some electronic communications that have been intercepted, in which case I would assume that a search warrant or a listening device warrant would have to be raised. I am not sure if you could discuss that, minister, whether that is standard practice for people who are under electronic monitoring, whether they have ongoing monitoring of their communications devices. How would we determine if someone is about to breach a condition?

The other questions I had were in relation to the fact that the completion rate for home detention orders in 2021 was 87.8 per cent, the second highest compared to other states in Australia and significantly higher than the national average of 69 per cent. Can you explain why that was? Was it because we had only had them in place for maybe a year? Was that just an anomaly because that was the first time they had been introduced, there were not many people who had electronic devices at that time and possibly, just on the balance of probability, there was a lower likelihood that people would have not completed home detention orders? What does completion rate mean? Does that mean that they did not tamper with devices throughout their period? I do not quite understand what that means?

It is nonetheless, according to the figures, a successful approach. With 702 people who have had home detention orders with electronic monitoring as at 31 March this year, I assume that means across the period that electronic monitoring has been available, so I assume that means from 2019 or from 2020, that over the last three years there has been 702 people. That is fantastic. Could you tell me what proportion of people who have been given a sentence that represents, 702 people? Are we saying that the 10 per cent of sentences end up being home detention orders? Do we know that? I am wondering where it sits in the suite of options that Justices have and how often in the cases where sentences are given are home detention orders chosen as the sentencing option versus going to prison and the usual course of events.

They are the only other questions I had for this bill. It is important to have options that provide the best opportunity for rehabilitation. Clearly, the situation in Risdon Prison under the Liberals is dire, with an enormous number of people there compared to the end of 2014 when there was a Labor-Greens government and a Greens corrections minister and -

Ms O'Byrne - The prison population has more than doubled since 2014.

Dr WOODRUFF - Right. As I am hearing from the Labor members, Ms Haddad and Ms O'Byrne, the population has more than doubled at Risdon Prison since the Labor-Greens government. It was a deliberative, strong set of reforms introduced by that government and it turned around the prison system in Tasmania for the better. It made that system a safer and more effective one. Before the Liberals took over 10 years ago, we had a justice system that had a low number of people coming into it and a very low rate of recidivism compared to where we are today. It had far lower assaults among prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. It had lower assaults from prisoners to prison officers. It had lower absenteeism and staff and officers who were either absent, not turning up to work or who were on long-term sick leave.

The situation now is just appalling. There are human rights violations occurring on a regular basis at Risdon Prison, but justice is not a voting issue except something that is used as a populist tool by conservative governments. Both conservative and progressive governments at times have used the tough-on-crime approach as a way of whipping up fear and loathing in the community and driving people to want to buy into the threat of people's personal safety, where all the evidence is showing the reverse. Personal safety is improved in the community when we have a therapeutic rehabilitative approach to justice. We see that in other countries which take that approach and the evidence is there in the statistics. If we do not trust the statistics then what do we trust? The statistics are very clear. There are a number of things you measure.

Recidivism, which is the rate of people returning to jail once they have been in there, is a function of the sort of education they get in jail and the training that people get equipped with to leave jail and to go into the community with skills to have a different life to the one that they had before. Unless we give people those skills in jail then we are consigning then to continue with the life and existence they had before. If people do not have skills and the ability to make a new set of friends then they will go back into that group and survive in that group of people they were with before they went to prison and that too often leads to continuing with criminal activities.

The evidence is that people in Tasmanian prisons, like in prisons elsewhere in Australia, have far higher rates of trauma from childhood experiences, they have higher rates of brain injury and cognitive impairment, they have much lower literacy than the mainstream population, and they typically have higher rates of addiction, which is linked to trauma and their living circumstances and poverty. People who go into jail typically come from the poorest parts of the community. They have the least resources to be able to pay fines.

I was looking at the monetary enforcement penalties data that we received from questions on notice from the Government. It shows a clear relationship between people who did not pay a monetary enforcement penalty - in other words, they had a fee outstanding of some type owed to the Government they were not able to pay - their licence was cancelled or suspended and the number of people who had accumulated a crime because they drove while their licence was suspended or cancelled was enormous, in the thousands over the past four years.

Let us be clear, it is not people who are wealthy who do not pay fines in Tasmania. It is people who do not have the money to be able to pay the fine in the context of all the other cost-of-living issues they have. We have huge concerns that this is used as a tool to extract money out of people, the tool of cancelling or suspending a person's licence because they cannot pay a fine for a parking infringement. That does not just happen occasionally. The data shows it happens often, over 1000 times a year for the last couple of years.

Unless we take a whole-system approach to therapeutic rehabilitation we will not be able to go back to the situation we had under a Labor-Greens government where we had low numbers of people in prison and where we were providing housing when they got out the other side so that they could not continue on with the crimes that they had committed before they went in.

This is just a small part of an approach, but would it be good, minister, if you took up the playbook of the Justice Reform Initiative as the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General to recognise the benefits to society of having a different approach to the one that has been taken so far by your Government. It has not been effective, it does not make the community safer and the evidence is there in the police data each year. It is a better outcome for everybody including the people you represent and the people I represent, the people Labor represents, to have a therapeutic approach to justice in this state.