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Trends in the Use of Suspended Sentences in NSW

NCJ Number
Lia McInnis; Craig Jones
Date Published
May 2010
4 pages
This study assessed the extent to which suspended sentences have replaced custodial and noncustodial penalties in New South Wales (Australia).
A suspended prison sentence is a term of imprisonment that has been imposed by the court but suspended for the length of the sentence. Offenders are permitted to remain in the community on the condition that they agree to be of good behavior and follow the conditions specified by the court. The primary purpose of suspended sentences is to indicate the seriousness of the offense and the consequences of reoffending, while at the same time providing offenders an opportunity, by good behavior, to avoid the consequences. In New South Wales (NSW), suspended sentences have been introduced, phased out, and then reintroduced as successive governments have attempted to find the best mix of sentencing alternatives. Following a recommendation by the NSW Law Reform Commission (1996), suspended sentences were reintroduced in their current form in April 2000. Since their reintroduction, the proportion of people receiving suspended sentences has tripled in NSW local courts, from 1.7 percent of all people convicted in 2000 to 5.1 percent in 2008, and more than doubled in the higher courts, from 6.9 percent to 16.8 percent. This study found that in a significant proportion of cases, judges and magistrates apparently have imposed a suspended sentence in cases where they would not have imposed a prison sentence in the absence of this sentencing alternative. The imposition of suspended custodial sanctions on offenders who would otherwise have received a noncustodial sanction has potentially serious implications for imprisonment rates over the longer term. The risk of imprisonment is probably higher for violating the conditions of a suspended sentence than it is for violating a good-behavior bond or a community service order (CSO). Study data were obtained from court databases. 4 figures, 8 references, and 2 notes