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Qld violent offender rules under review

Parole laws for some of Queensland’s worst criminals are coming under a spotlight following pressure from a victim support group.

Crimes including manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, torture, rape, sex with a child, and drug trafficking are among those categorised as ‘serious violent offices’.

The state’s Sentencing Advisory Council is reviewing an ’80 per cent rule’ which requires an offender to serve 80 per cent of their jail sentence or 15 years, whichever is less, before being eligible to apply for parole.

Queensland Homicide Victim Support Group chief executive officer Brett Thompson said criminals who have stabbed, strangled and shot victims have frequently avoided the SVO scheme.

“From the experiences of the group’s members, the scheme is not doing what it was supposed to,” Mr Thompson wrote in a submission to the council.

“Our position in relation to the Serious Violent Offender Scheme is that it seems well intended, however its application seems to have been at best inconsistent and at worst, avoided.”

The scheme was introduced in 1997 with the then-attorney-general declaring the approach was based on community expectation that “the sentence imposed will reflect the true facts and serious nature of the violence and harm in any given case”.

An SVO declaration is mandatory for a person sentenced to 10 years or more in prison, for one of the specified offences.

It can also be made at a judge’s discretion, such as in the case of a five- to 10-year jail sentence for one of the listed offences.

The rule also means offenders can spend 20 per cent or less of their sentence on parole if their application is successful, a concern raised by Legal Aid Queensland.

“It is LAQ’s view that a reduction of supervision in the community for offenders who commit the most heinous offences may not provide the best outcome for long-term community protection,” the organisation stated.

“It seems likely that longer periods of supervision in the community would be more effective.”

Queensland’s Appeal Court raised this concern when it altered the sentence of pedophile Sterling Mervyn Free who sexually assaulted a seven-year-old girl after taking her from a Kmart store in 2018.

“Community protection is not achieved only by actual incarceration,” the Appeal Court judges found.

“It is also achieved by the oversight of the Parole Board, before a person may be released on parole; and by supervision of the person, on parole, if they are released, for the remainder of their sentence, whilst they make the adjustment from custody and back into the community.

“Allowing the possibility of a date for eligibility for parole at an earlier stage (than 80 per cent) has two potential benefits. First, to provide the prisoner a basis for hope and, in turn, an incentive for rehabilitation. And, in appropriate cases, to enable a longer period of conditional supervision, outside of the custodial environment, which may provide greater community protection in the long term.”

Legal Aid Queensland argues offenders with an SVO declaration may be released into the community without any supervision.

Some data suggested offenders subject to the SVO regime, who simply never applied for parole, included 14 per cent of offenders convicted of maintaining a relationship with a child, 13 per cent of offenders convicted of rape and 14 per cent of offenders convicted of manslaughter, its submission states.

Legal Aid Queensland refers to research recognising parole as an attempt to prevent reoffending and suggesting parole has a beneficial impact on recidivism.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has called for the scheme to be abolished saying it causes a disincentive to plead guilty to serious offences, creating an additional burden on courts.

“Ultimately, it is only the courts that have access to the facts, circumstances and contexts in which a particular offence is committed,” its submission states.

“It is therefore appropriate that the courts have the ultimate discretion in determining the appropriate sentence for a particular offence that has been proved, subject to the principles and maximum sentence that has been determined by the legislature.”

Similarly the Queensland Law Society calls for discretion about declaring an SVO to be left to the court, based on the case.

It says giving a judge discretion promotes “individualised justice which is more likely to support positive outcomes than a ‘one size fits all’ or ‘one size fits most’ method”.

A final report with recommendations is to be provided to Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman by April 11.

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