The union representing prison guards is warning Tasmania’s prison system is already a “pressure cooker” plagued by lockdowns and overcrowding, and scrapping suspended sentences is only going to make it worse.
The State Government has released legislation that stops Supreme Court judges using suspended sentences on serious drug and sexual offences, as well as violent crimes.
- Tasmanian Government wants to phase out suspended sentences.
- Plans to replace with home detention and community orders.
- Those options allow a court to impose stricter conditions on offenders.
It is part of the Liberals’ plan to phase out suspended jail time and replace it with other sentencing options such as home detention and community orders, which allow a court to impose stricter conditions on offenders.
Legal experts predict more offenders will serve jail time, and CPSU assistant secretary Thirza White said prison staff were worried because overcrowding was already a “massive issue”.
“Cells that are designed for one person are housing up to two if not three and this is leading to unnecessary lockdowns,” she said.
“We have a significant issue around understaffing which is really heightening tensions and it’s really a pressure cooker ready to go.”
Ms White said staff were worried about how the prison system would cope.
“Any time that a government makes a change to policy or program, or a big statement about being tough on crime, what we need to see is more resources to those agencies that deliver those services,” she said.
“We need more resources in our courts, we need more resources in community corrections who manage rehabilitation, and we need more corrections officers and support staff in our prisons. “
Prisoners Legal Service spokesman Greg Barns has also questioned the effectiveness of removing suspended sentences.
“I don’t know of any evidence anywhere in the world that if you increase penalties they stop offending,” Mr Barns said.
Mr Barns said overcrowding and understaffing was causing unnecessary “lock downs”, which meant prisoners could not leave their cells.
“We’re sitting on a tinder box at Risdon Prison and what [Police Minister] Rene Hidding and [Justice Minister] Matthew Groom want to do is light the match,” he said.
Mr Groom said the changes were about ensuring justice for victims.
“We think it is a sensible piece of legislation that is reflecting community concerns, it’s addressing the wants of victims which is a very important thing for us to focus on,” he said.
Mr Groom said more money was already being invested in the state’s prison system.
“When it comes to resourcing we recognise that we need to monitor the impact, we need to make sure we have the appropriate resources and we will do that,” he said.
“We take our responsibility for the proper management of the prison system very seriously, but we also want to listen to the community and reflect the concern they have about the use of suspended sentences for very serious offences.”