New Report Reveals Substantial Increase in Offenders Aged 60+ in Victoria

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Wednesday 15 September 2021

A report released today finds that the number of offenders aged 60 and over being sentenced in Victoria has increased substantially over the past 10 years, well beyond the growth in this age group in the Victorian population. This is contributing to an increase in older prisoners in Victoria.

The Sentencing Advisory Council’s report examines the 30,033 offenders sentenced when aged 60 and over in Victoria in the 10 years from 2010 to 2019. These ‘older offenders’ accounted for 4% of all cases in the Magistrates’ Court and 6% of all cases in the higher courts (County and Supreme Courts).

The report finds that both the number and the percentage of older offenders sentenced in Victoria each year have increased substantially, from 2,604 cases in 2010 (3% of all sentenced cases) to 4,766 cases in 2019 (5% of all sentenced cases).

The report’s key findings include:

  • The increase in older offenders in the higher courts each year (from 81 cases in 2010 to 121 in 2019) was mainly due to an increasing number of historical sex offence cases. Most (67%) older offenders sentenced for sex offences in the higher courts were sentenced 10 years or more after the offending occurred, with almost one in five (18%) sentenced 40 years or more after the offending.
  • The increase in older offenders sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court each year (from 2,523 cases in 2010 to 4,645 in 2019) was mainly caused by an almost doubling of cases of traffic/vehicle offences involving older offenders. This may reflect more older people challenging traffic and vehicle infringements in court. The number of older offenders sentenced for assaults and justice offences also more than doubled.
  • The number of older people sentenced to imprisonment each year between 2010 and 2019 more than doubled (from 94 to 200 cases), which partly explains Victoria’s aging prison population.
  • Most older offenders were male (84%), and older men and women offended differently – older men were more commonly sentenced for sexual or violent offending whereas older women were more commonly sentenced for property-related offending such as fraud and theft.
  • Only 1.3% of the 6,533 cases involving older female offenders between 2010 and 2019 resulted in a prison sentence (86 cases). The relatively small number of older female prisoners may make it more difficult to meet their needs, such as age-appropriate cells, health and rehabilitation programs, and prison work.
  • While advanced age can be taken into account in sentencing, older offenders sentenced for sex offences were more likely than offenders aged under 60 to be sentenced to imprisonment, and they received longer average prison terms than their younger counterparts. In part this is because courts have repeatedly emphasised that advanced age does not justify unacceptably lenient sentencing, especially for serious offences such as homicide and sex offences, including historical offences.

Given the number of older offenders sentenced years or decades after their offending, many were eligible for suspended sentences of imprisonment, which were phased out by 2014 but are still available for some offences committed before then. In some cases, older offenders were given a suspended sentence because the court found they were too frail or medically unfit to fulfill the conditions of a community order. Older offenders were half as likely as their younger counterparts to receive a community order (7% compared to 14% of offenders aged under 60) and almost twice as likely to receive a suspended sentence (16% compared to 9% of offenders aged under 60). This may reveal a gap in the sentencing hierarchy for older offenders who are no longer eligible for suspended sentences of imprisonment.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair, Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘Courts in Victoria have consistently said that if you offend against children, the passage of time will not prevent the criminal justice system from holding you to account for what you have done. That is also what this report shows. Older people sentenced for sex offences were more likely than people aged under 60 to be sentenced to prison for sex offences, and their prison sentences tended to be longer. This probably reflected the seriousness of their crimes, more than their age, for example, offences against multiple victims over long periods of time, sometimes spanning multiple generations of children.

‘The report also raises questions about why so many more older people are seeking to challenge traffic infringements in court. Is it because they can’t pay but are unaware of other avenues for review? For someone on a pension, an infringement penalty can represent a substantial amount of money. That is part of why we previously recommended reduced infringement penalties for people experiencing financial hardship.

‘There are also questions about whether community correction orders can adequately accommodate older offenders, for example, through age-appropriate programs and community work. These questions will become even more pressing as the availability of suspended sentences declines.’

The report, Sentencing Older Offenders in Victoria, and a factsheet will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Wednesday 15 September 2021.