A PLAN to boost diversion programs for young offenders and keep more of them out of jail is not soft on crime, the state attorney-general says.
The government released a discussion paper yesterday asking for community views about how to improve court diversion programs for young people.
Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge says effective diversion programs can help young offenders to get their lives back on track.
“Providing young offenders with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and address the underlying issues that have led to their criminal behaviour can divert them from progressing to further and more serious crimes and becoming caught up in the criminal justice system,” she said yesterday.
Attorney-General Robert Clark, who has long argued the coalition is tough on crime, denied the focus on diversion programs was a softening of the government’s law and order policies.
“Youth diversion is not about letting juvenile offenders off with just a slap over the wrist ... it’s about making them recognise that their actions have had consequences,” he said.
“The Victorian government’s approach is to adopt a range of techniques to ensure we have strong and effective laws to prevent and deter crime, and this is fully consistent with that.”
Diversion programs were appropriate for low-range offences including vandalism, Mr Clark said.
He said the government still planned to legislate two-year mandatory minimum sentences for young people found guilty of acts of gross violence such as stomping on someone’s head.
This comes as Ballarat magistrate Peter Couzens last month expressed frustration at Children’s Court sentencing restrictions for teenagers who commit serious offences.
Mr Couzens has previously called for 17-year-olds to be considered adults by law, saying that Children’s Court sentencing principles were naive and should be readdressed.
“We (magistrates) are prisoners of the legislation,” he said in May.
Sentencing Advisory Council chairman Arie Freiberg has said the planned mandatory minimum sentences of four years’ jail for adults and two years’ detention for 16- and 17-year-olds will not necessarily lower crime rates.
Submissions about diversion programs for young offenders can be made to the Department of Justice until October 5 this year.