No more suspended sentences: it's jail or corrections order

SUSPENDED sentences were removed from Victoria's justice system on Monday.

Magistrates will now be forced to jail offenders or grant community correction orders.

Ballarat lawyers have expressed concern over the loss of discretion over sentencing by magistrates.

"Magistrates have always had a little bit of discretion, and bit by bit this is being taken away," said solicitor Jon Irwin.

Mr Irwin also said the government had gone overboard with the move.

"We need a strong sentencing regime, but there's still a place for suspended sentences," he said.

Lawyer Dianne Hadden said community correction orders would be a suitable alternative only if adequate resources were put into supporting

them.

"The corrections officer is (already) way overloaded," she said, also making clear this abolition would not help recidivism rates.

"The whole idea of reforming the offender and rehabilitation is the basis of our criminal justice system. There is no chance of rehabilitation in prison."

Mr Irwin made clear jail was necessary in some circumstances, but said there needed to be a step between a custodial sentence and a community correction

order.

"Some people need something of a sword of Damocles hanging over their head without a jail sentence," he said.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that people should be given a chance."

The Law Institute of Victoria slammed the policy when it came in for Supreme Court and Country Court cases last year, saying the move "overlook(ed) the reality of the role suspended sentences play".

"It's important to note that the majority of suspended sentences occur in non-violent property related crimes and there are many instances where a suspended sentence can be of significantly greater value to the wider community than having the offender serve a prison term," wrote former institute president Reynah Tang.

Attorney General Robert Clark said in a statement the law would force magistrates to make clearer decisions.

"If a magistrate does not believe an offender should go to prison, the law will in future require that to be done openly," he said.

alex.hamer@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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