Growth in Victoria’s Remand Population Is Driving Increase in Prison Sentences: New Report

Media Release

Embargoed until 12:01 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 4 February 2020

The Sentencing Advisory Council today has released a report examining the 640% increase in Victorian courts’ use of time served prison sentences – sentences of imprisonment equal to the time the offender has already spent on remand – over the past seven years.

From June 2014 to June 2019, Victoria’s prison population rose 33%, from 6,113 prisoners to 8,102 prisoners. Almost all of that increase (over 92%) was due to more people being held in custody awaiting trial (unsentenced prisoners/remandees).

The number of prison sentences imposed in Victoria each year rose from 5,800 in 2013–14 to 9,300 in 2017–18. Despite this stark increase, the number of people actually serving a prison sentence has only risen by about 150.

Has the Increased Remand Population Affected Sentencing Outcomes?

The new report explores how the increase in unsentenced prisoners may be indirectly affecting sentencing outcomes. In particular, it examines whether more people are receiving prison sentences, rather than a less serious sentence such as a community correction order (CCO), because they have already effectively been punished through time served in custody on remand.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Between 2011–12 and 2017–18, the number of time served prison sentences imposed by Victorian courts each year rose 643%, from 246 to 1,828. They now account for 20% of all prison sentences imposed, whereas previously it was 5%.
  • Just over half of all time served prison sentences were combined with a CCO, with the CCO taking effect upon the person’s release.
  • 96% of time served prison sentences were less than six months in length.
  • Almost all time served prison sentences (95%) were imposed in the Magistrates’ Court, while 5% were imposed in the County and Supreme Courts.
  • Time served prison sentences accounted for 39% of the increase in prison sentences imposed in Victoria in the five financial years to 30 June 2018. There were 3,500 additional prison sentences imposed in 2017–18 than in 2013–14. Nearly 1,400 of those were time served prison sentences. This strongly suggests that Victoria’s increasing remand population is causing courts to impose prison sentences more often, without actually requiring people to spend more time in prison.

The report flags important criminal justice policy implications arising from this increase in time served prison sentences, including:

  • the limited opportunities for someone sentenced to a time served prison sentence to make transitional arrangements for their release (e.g. housing, employment, transport);
  • the limited opportunities for the criminal justice system to provide targeted programs addressing offending behaviour to someone held on remand, given that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty;
  • the extent to which a time served prison sentence is capable of achieving key sentencing purposes such as rehabilitation or community protection; and
  • whether the increasing likelihood of receiving a time served prison sentence might inappropriately encourage some people on remand to plead guilty in the hope of being released earlier than if they proceeded to trial.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘In the last five years, there has been a sevenfold increase in time served prison sentences in Victoria. One in 10 prison sentences in Victoria now involve immediate release and no further supervision. There are serious questions about what these sentences can achieve, and what effect they have on community safety.

‘Also, contrary to the prevailing perception in the community that courts are “soft on crime”, the report finds that more people are in jail, fewer people are being bailed, and more people are being sentenced to prison than ever before.’

About Time Served Prison Sentences

A time served prison sentence is a sentence of imprisonment equal to the time that the offender has already spent on remand. It may or may not be combined with a CCO that takes effect upon the person’s release from prison.

Time Served Prison Sentences in Victoria will be published on the Council’s website on Tuesday 4 February 2020.