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




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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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 now; you only have to go to the Internet for a session to pull up as much stuff as you want to read over a week So I wont do that; its impossible to report on that in detail. Suffice to quote from a broad overview in Time magazine, February 1 this year, two weeks ago, which is headed, Mandatory sentencing was once Americas law and order panacea - heres why its not working. To quote some of the things: While the three-strike laws sound great to the public, they arent working. A growing number o f states and private groups have scrutinised these and other mandatory minimum laws. The studies are finding that laws cost enormous amounts o f money largely to lock up such non-violent folks as teenage drug couriers, dope-starved addicts and unfortunate offenders like the Iowa man who got 10 years for stealing $30 worth o f steaks from a grocery store and then struggling with the store clerk, which made it into a felony. Mandatory minimums are the reason why the current prison population in America has reached over 2 million people [thats the size of Melbourne, almost]. Six hundred million dollars has gone into prison construction in the New York area and, in the same period, $700 million has come out o f the higher education system in that state. A member inteijecting. Mr TOYNE: Well, let me finish. It actually has not. More importantly, mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes insult justice. Most mandatory sentences were designed as weapons in the drug war, with the awful consequence that it is now more likely you will get a long sentence from selling a joint then sexually abusing someone. And, I think we can see parallels in the types of offences that have been put in the mandatory regimes here in the Territory. Worst of all, the mandatory sentencing has done little to solve the problems for which they are crafted. Most of the trivial offences where mandatory sentencing has been brought in into American states have actually not decreased at all on the studies. And, more and more people in the legal system and in the law enforcement system are basically saying that this is not working. The good news within that is, to quote the article: The consensus is emerging amongst judges, law enforcers and crime experts, amongst them many conservatives who once supported the laws, that mandatory minimums are foolish. The Supreme Court last week declined to hear a case challenging a Californian three strikes law, but four justices expressed concern about the law s effect, and seemed to invite other challenges. A few brave politicians have gingerly suggested that the laws may be something that we should rethink. Some states are starting to back-track on tough sentencing laws. The article goes on to give some examples there, which you could multiply by the vast number if you are prepared to go through on a more thorough search. So, the American experience: the Americans invented this sort of thing and they are starting to get to the other end of the experiment now and starting to say: Well, we put this in place to try and pull back the certain areas of crime in our society. They are finding that it is extremely expensive and that the crimes that they are trying to reduce in the community are simply not getting reduced. By any measure that would, as a public policy, render it as being ineffective and inappropriate. So you do not even need to raise the moral argument about that. This is simply a matter of efficient and effective spending of tax dollars against some areas of social government action. Returning now to the Territory, and to my part of the Territory which is Alice Springs, I started to think about the kinds of statistics, the type of information you would need if you were going to make any judgment about how mandatory sentencing is impacting after two years. The first thing you would want to know is the level of property crime. That is precisely what the mandatory sentencing laws have been put into place to combat and, clearly, if we are going to justify the expenditure of public moneys and the general structural responsibilities thats brought with it, we would want to see a result in property crime. Now, for what statistics I can get hold of, which are the Neighbourhood Watch figures over the two years, which I seek leave to table. Leave granted. Now as I table these, Neighbourhood Watch do not put out figures on every month. I have those figures that have been published in Alice Springs. The best thing you could compare this to is a 2812