Imprisonment is the most severe sentencing order available in Victoria. Under this order, an offender’s freedom is restricted by confining him or her in prison.

Corrections Victoria administers Victoria’s 14 adult prisons. These facilities include remand centres for people awaiting trial or sentence, minimum security correctional centres, and maximum security prisons. There are separate prisons for men and women.

Maximum and Minimum Terms of Imprisonment

The court will determine the length of imprisonment, subject to any maximum or minimum terms set by parliament.

In all cases, the court must follow the principle of parsimony in sentencing. This means that the sentence must be no more severe than is necessary to achieve the purpose or purposes of sentencing in the particular case.

In Victoria, maximum terms are specified for all offences punishable by imprisonment. It is rare for parliament to set a minimum term of imprisonment for an offence.

An exception is the offence of gross violence, which commenced on 1 July 2013. Adult offenders who cause serious injury in defined circumstances of gross violence are liable to a statutory minimum non-parole period of four years' imprisonment. There are limited special circumstances in which a court may impose a sentence that is less than the statutory minimum four years' imprisonment.

Mandatory Sentencing

Under Victorian law, a court must impose a custodial sentence for the following offences (described as ‘Category 1’ offences):

  • murder
  • causing serious injury intentionally in circumstances of gross violence
  • causing serious injury recklessly in circumstances of gross violence
  • rape
  • rape by compelling sexual penetration
  • incest (victim under the age of 18)
  • incest – de facto (victim under the age of 18)
  • sexual penetration of a child under the age of 12
  • persistent sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16
  • trafficking in a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence
  • cultivation of a large commercial quantity of a narcotic plant.

Standard Sentences

For offences committed after 1 February 2018, courts are required to consider the standard sentence alongside all other relevant sentencing principles and factors, and will need to provide reasons explaining how the sentence imposed in a case relates to the relevant standard sentence.

Serious offenders

‘Serious offenders’ are defined in Part 2A of the Sentencing Act 1991. They include serious sexual offenders, serious arson offenders, serious drug offenders, and serious violent offenders.

When sentencing a serious offender to imprisonment for more than one offence, the court must order each sentence to be served cumulatively (one after the other), unless it directs otherwise.

The courts must regard community protection as the primary purpose of sentencing serious offenders. For this reason, the court may impose a longer prison sentence on a serious offender than is proportionate to the gravity of the offence.

Does Life Imprisonment Mean Life?

In Victoria, only the Supreme Court can impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

A term of life imprisonment means imprisonment for the duration of an offender’s natural life. However, courts can set a non-parole period, after which the offender may apply to be released from prison on parole. A person will remain under sentence even after release from prison on parole if he or she received a term of life imprisonment.

A court may refuse to set a non-parole period if it considers the nature of the offence or the past history of the offender makes setting a non-parole period inappropriate. In Victoria, a sentence of life imprisonment without parole means the offender will remain in prison until he or she dies.

Indefinite Sentences

An indefinite sentence is a sentence of imprisonment with no set end date. It can be imposed if an offender has committed a serious offence and the court believes the offender is a serious danger to the community, such as if the offender has a history of repeated serious violent or sexual offences.

Once an indefinite sentence has been given, it is the court, rather than the Adult Parole Board, that decides whether release is appropriate. Release is only granted if the court finds that the offender is no longer a serious danger to the community. 

Continuing Detention

An offender convicted of certain sexual offences may be required to remain in prison if the Supreme Court is satisfied that he or she poses an unacceptable risk of committing a further sexual offence after release.

A continuing detention order may be made for a period of up to three years. The order may be renewed if the risk of reoffending remains. A continuing detention order must be reviewed at least once every year.

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