A criminal law professor is giving a speech for a visiting delegation from China about the sentencing options available to judges in Australian courts.
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Transcript and reference translation
When most people think about sentencing, the first thing that comes to mind is imprisonment. However, imprisonment is only one of a wide range of sentencing options available to the courts. In general, imprisonment is regarded as a last resort, to be used only when no lesser form of punishment is deemed appropriate. In fact, it is only used in a small proportion of criminal cases.
In some cases parole is granted, which means that offenders can serve part of their sentence outside prison. There are strict conditions for their release, such as supervision by a parole officer. The aim of parole is to assist the offender to re-integrate into mainstream society. If the offender breaches any conditions of parole, the parole can be revoked and the offender returned to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.
If the prison sentence is 18 months or less, the court may order that the sentence be served by way of home detention. This requires that the offender stay inside his or her residence at specified times, for example, from 7pm to 7am. They may be monitored by an electronic device attached to their person, or by random visits and calls to their home. Home detention is only available for a limited range of offences, and may not be ordered for offenders with a violent criminal history.
Another sentencing option is community service work, the maximum of which is 500 hours. The kind of community service work to be performed is determined by the parole officer supervising the offender. It may include, for example, cleaning graffiti off walls or picking up rubbish in a public area.
The court may also order the offender to enter into a good behaviour bond for a term of up to five years. The offender must comply with the conditions of the bond and let the court know if their residential address changes. If these conditions are violated, the court may re-sentence the offender for the original offence.
In certain circumstances a court may find a person guilty, but opt for a dismissal of charge. This is generally used by the courts for trivial offences, or where the age, character, prior criminal record or mental condition of the offender indicates that it is appropriate. It is seen as a way of giving people who make a mistake a second chance, and to avoid giving them a criminal record.
A suspended sentence is another option a court may consider. In this case, the offender is released from custody on condition that he or she enters into a good behaviour bond. If the offender breaches this agreement, the court may order the offender to serve the original sentence.
As for fines, the maximum amount that can be imposed for an offence is generally set out in legislation, and is usually expressed in ‘penalty units’. Currently, a penalty unit is set at $110 each, so if the maximum penalty for an offence is 1000 penalty units, the maximum fine is $110,000. The court can take into account the offender’s ability to pay when determining the amount of a fine. If the fine is not paid, the defaulter’s driver’s licence and vehicle registration can be cancelled, property can be seized or money can be taken from their wages. In some cases, a community service order – or even imprisonment – can be imposed.