Territory Stories

Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999



Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999

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Parliamentary Record 14


Debates for 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001




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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 17 February 1999 had that sort of money. Ive been to meetings in the past with groups of youth workers, people involved in juvenile justice etc, who say: If we had more people who can look into the reasons, if we can offer some support, if we can offer more options for things like supported accommodation, then we wouldnt have many of the situations that leave some of these people in difficult circumstances. No-one is condoning in any shape or form what they have done, but as you will see if you look into many of these cases, some of them do come from appalling backgrounds. I challenge members in this Chamber to say that, when they were 15, 16 or 17, they didnt pinch a few apples from an orchard or a barrow, that theyre cleaner than the driven snow. I would doubt it. I recall previous debates in here when members have talked about their fairly lively childhoods. Im sure the member for Blain would recall some of the statements he has made in this Chamber about his childhood. I think many of us travel along a very fine line at times in our growth and development, going through rebellious stages. Is it appropriate that the response of the community to very minor crime is compulsory jailing? On this side of the Chamber, we believe that as far as reducing crime goes, mandatory sentencing does not work In terms of the cost involved in the process, mandatory sentencing does not work But, most important of all, it is morally wrong to subject juveniles and adults to compulsory imprisonment for crimes that are totally out of proportion to the penalty. The Chief Minister told us at the time that sentencing is designed to achieve 5 principle objectives. The first was deterrence - punishing offenders to reduce crime. Quite clearly, when the punishment far exceeds the crime the psychological response of the perpetrator of the crime is that the system in the community is not a reasonable, rational one. Therefore, further crime is likely to occur. There is no justice if you take people out and flog them for petty crimes. In the United States, which has some of the strongest sentencing regimes, crime is getting out of control. It is quite clear that communities that care about their citizens and do something to deal with their citizens problems are much more likely to create a society where crime goes down. It was argued at a seminar I attended that capital punishment increases the rate of violent crime. People of a very authoritarian nature, seeing the state condoning violence to wrongdoers, transfer that attitude to people who they see doing wrong and beat up their children or spouses. In fact, there is a statistical correlation in the US between executions and increased violent crime immediately afterwards. Retribution - punishing offenders to express societys disapproval of criminal behaviour-is an interesting one. You would expect society to want to punish serious crime, but it appears quite commonly that the people were punishing are victims. Theyre victims of a society that hasnt cared for them. I think that when you put retribution on people who already see that their role in life is one where society has largely rejected them, then all you create is even more dysfunctional people. And were talking about 15 and 16-year-olds. How many more years do they have to live within our society? How many more years are we going to put them in jail? We know that the more you institutionalise young people, take them from the family and put them in foster homes etc, the more likely they are to have ongoing problems in the future. Retribution, if thats what we want to exact, should at least be consistent with the crime. We know that speeding kills people. After alcohol, it is the most common cause of road accidents. So why dont we say the first offence costs a $100 fine, for the second one you go to jail for 14 days, for the third one you go to jail for 90 days and the fourth one you go to jail for a year? You can kill people when you speed. How much damage do you do when you take a $2 or $3 object? Its wrong - Ive no problems with that. But the sheer cost to the community makes it ridiculous. The next purpose of sentencing was rehabilitation - removing the presumed causes of crime by providing economic or social assistance to offenders, to reduce the likelihood of their re-offending. What could you do in rehabilitation programs with $320 a day? There are Aboriginal communities where petrol sniffing is a major problem. They cant get support for a recreation officer to run sporting programs or in other activities. $320 a day for one person in jail! Some communities probably have half a dozen or more 15 and 16-year-olds in jail at any one time. How many full time officers could you place in those communities to work with those kids? Turn it around, and for $320 a day you could probably employ half a dozen offenders in beneficial work. But no, we stick them in jail where they are assaulted by other inmates. They did something wrong. They might have been joyriding in a car driven by someone else. They may not have known at the time that the vehicle was stolen. But they are party to a crime. If they happened to have been involved before in minor offences, it might be 90 days - it might even be a year. We are now getting reports of people into their third and fourth offence. 2810