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Mandatory sentencing does not make the community safer

Media attention has recently been drawn to calls to increase mandatory sentences of imprisonment for assaults on Police officers.

Law Society NT (Society) president Mr Tass Liveris said, “Northern Territory courts lock up more people than anywhere else in Australia and it hasn’t reduced crime or re-offending. We are all seeing our imprisonment and re-offending rates continually going up. Our Indigenous imprisonment rate is in crisis. Making sentencing laws even harsher is not going to stop assaults or make the community any safer; it will only make these problems worse.”

The Northern Territory already has strict mandatory minimum imprisonment terms for assaults. The maximum penalties are higher for assaults on Police on duty and even greater again if the officer suffers harm or serious harm. This recognises the greater seriousness of assaults committed on Police, who are often vulnerable to abuse and who perform a difficult job for the benefit of the community.

Mandatory sentencing does not deter offending and has no general deterrent effect. Imprisonment is also extremely expensive. The actual and hidden costs of mandatory sentencing are alarming. Mr Liveris said, “The government could employ a senior classroom teacher for the same cost of keeping one person in jail every year. Rather than spend the community’s money on putting people in jail, governments need to invest in strategies to address issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, which we see time and time again as features in crimes, especially assaults on Police. Increased jail sentences will not cure the problem. As an entire community, we need to focus on the root causes of criminal behaviour, so that we can start to see some positive change.”

Mr Liveris said, “We want our community to be a safe place. We support our Police force, who do a difficult job and are a vital part of tackling crime. However, the reality is that harsher penalties for Police assaults will not stop crime and re-offending and will not make the community or the Police force safer.”

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