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Kids face stricter jail terms

Kids face stricter jail terms

Judicial discretion must remain for juveniles who commit acts of 'gross violence', says the president of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).Accredited Family Law specialist and LIV president…

Judicial discretion must remain for juveniles who commit acts of 'gross violence', says the president of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).

Accredited Family Law specialist and LIV president Caroline Counsel told Lawyers Weekly today (18 August) that the Victorian Government's mandatory sentencing plan for juveniles aged 16-17 would lead to inconsistent sentencing results; increased costs to the community and greater marginalisation of vulnerable 'kids'.

"It [the proposal] is too easy and simplistic and plays into the 'low end' voters hands that 'crime A' deserves 'punishment B'. It's not how sentencing should work and it's not how sentencing currently works and nor does it fulfil the aims of our states' legislation which is all about determining the best rehabilitative outcome for the child," said Counsel.

Counsel argued her case to around 100 members of the public gathered this morning in a theatre in Melbourne's Federation Square to discuss the topic. Other speakers included University of Melbourne Associate Professor in Psychology Jeanette Lawrence and the Anglican Archibishop of Melbourne Dr Phillip Freier.

Both Freier and Counsel said the Baillieu Government's proposal would add nothing more to the existing sentencing powers in Victoria.

"It's fixing something that's not broken and doesn't need fixing. Already written into the suite of sentencing option for juveniles who commit crimes is a two year penalty which can even be extended to 3 years," said Counsel.

The VIC government is awaiting a report from the Sentencing Advisory Council on its mandatory minimum sentencing proposal, under which juveniles who commit assaults with ''gross violence'' would be jailed for two years except in "very unusual circumstances".

The government argues that it is delivering what the public want with its plan to be tough on crime, but Counsel - like former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC - argues the policy is an attempt to buy votes.

"All this sort of zero tolerance...it sounds great but hey, you know where the real work is; actually analysing why these crimes are committed in the first place. That's harder; that's going to take more time; that will probably go beyond a voting cycle, and that's why it's not popular," said Counsel.

Freier said it was "interesting" that the government claimed it has the public's support with its policy.

"There were no voices raised this morning calling for harsher punishment and it was a publicly advertised event, we advertised it even in The Age," said Freier.

One argument advocates for mandatory sentencing make is that less leniency achieves greater deterrence, but Lawrence said teenagers were not necessarily deterred by penalties.

"Jeanette highlighted that risk taking behaviour has its own momentum quite apart from teenagers' consideration of consequences. Questions of deterrence are no where in their mind," said Freier.

The spike of risk taking behaviour - which brings 3 per cent of the 16-17 year age cohort into contact with authorities -begins to drop off around the age of 18 -19 years, said Lawrence.

"Say we lock them up for 2 years now...then what do we do with them," said Counsel. "They are going to come out better criminals; because they're kids and they're going to succumb to greater peer pressure in detention. At best, their going to have they're lives on hold, they're going to be stigmatised, they're going to have low self esteem and not be able to enter the workforce." Counsel has called for a greater focus on employment and "proper supportive relationships" in the mainstream community for teenagers.

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