Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 29 March 2022
A new Sentencing Advisory Council report finds that the number of people sentenced for serious offending while serving a community correction order (CCO) has fallen to a five-year low during the 12 months to 30 June 2021, most likely due to COVID-19 restrictions affecting Victoria’s court system.
In the 12 months to 30 June 2021, 483 people were sentenced for serious offending while serving a CCO, representing a 17.3% decline compared to the number of people sentenced in the previous financial year. The 483 people were sentenced for 640 charges of serious offending during 2020-21, representing a 22.9% decline from the number of charges sentenced in 2019-20.
The report – the Council’s fifth to examine serious offending by people serving a CCO – looks back at the five financial years to 30 June 2021 to find that the number of people sentenced for serious offending on a CCO and the number of sentenced charges have continuously declined since 2019-20, reflecting the period when COVID-19 restrictions commenced in Victoria.
Despite the decline in the number of people sentenced, the estimated rate of serious offending by people on a CCO has remained remarkably consistent at 1.6% or 1.7% of people serving a CCO in each of the five years to 30 June 2021. This may be due to the number of people being sentenced for committing a serious offence declining at a similar rate to the number of people being placed on a CCO: the numbers in both groups may be similarly influenced by the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on court operations.
While the estimated rate of serious offending by people on a CCO remained relatively low, the report also finds that a growing proportion of this cohort were serving a CCO that had been combined with imprisonment (a ‘combined order’) at the time of committing their serious offence. The percentage of people committing a serious offence while serving a combined order increased from 17.3% (of 551 people sentenced in 2016–17) to 43.9% (of 483 people sentenced in 2020–21).
The types of serious offences that people commit while serving a CCO have also remained consistent since 2016–17. The three most common serious offences sentenced in 2020–21 for people serving a CCO were the same as in the previous four years:
- make threat to kill (237 charges);
- make threat to inflict serious injury (126 charges); and
- aggravated burglary (92 charges).
There were also a handful of very serious offences sentenced in 2020–21 committed by people serving a CCO, including:
- manslaughter (2 charges);
- rape (1 charge); and
- rape by compelling sexual penetration (1 charge).
Comments Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM
‘It’s clear that the last two years have been challenging for the Victorian court system with the onset of COVID-19 and its attendant restrictions on day-to-day operations, and this is borne out in the reduced numbers of people sentenced for serious offending while serving a CCO.’
‘Despite the reduction in raw numbers, the underlying trends remain remarkably persistent, indicating that less than 2% of people serving a CCO later go on to commit a serious offence. Of the people who do go on to offend, much of the offending behaviour continues to involve the making of threats to kill or injure, or the commission of an aggravated burglary, so perhaps assessment or intervention programs to prevent these types of offences would be most useful for people who are about to be placed on a CCO.’
‘The most troubling trend is the continuing upward trajectory in the proportion of people committing serious offences after serving a period of imprisonment as part of a combined order. On the one hand, we could theorise that the people who tend to receive a combined order had a more concerning criminal history and would be more susceptible to reoffending regardless. On the other hand, we should not ignore the possibility that many first-time or low-risk offenders may have received a combined order simply as an outcome of being held on remand. For this latter cohort, any criminogenic effect from their experiences in a custodial setting could be mitigated by providing them with greater targeted support or monitoring programs when they are released into the community.’
The report, Serious Offending by People Serving a Community Correction Order: 2020–21 will be available on the Sentencing Advisory Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 29 March 2022.
About Combined Orders
A CCO may be combined with a maximum term of imprisonment of one year. The CCO commences once the offender has served their term in prison.
About Serious Offences
Serious offences are defined by section 104(AA)(3) of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) to include ‘serious violent offences’ (such as armed robbery, aggravated burglary, make threat to kill and intentionally causing serious injury) and ‘sexual offences’ (such as rape and sexual assault).
The Sentencing Advisory Council is required to regularly report on serious offences committed by people serving a CCO. Section 104AA(2) of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) states that: ‘for each financial year commencing on or after 1 July 2016, the Sentencing Advisory Council must report for that year the number of persons convicted during that year of a serious offence committed while subject to a community correction order’.