An evaluation of the impact of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) and the Corrections (Remissions) Act 1991 (Vic) upon sentencing practices and custodial populations

Criminology Research Council grant ; (15/92)

The report of this project examined the impact of the changes brought about by the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) and the Sentencing (Amendment) Act 1993 (Vic) upon:

  • the number and length of prison sentences;
  • the relationship between custodial and non-custodial sanctions; and
  • the use of intermediate sanction.

The study examined trends in sentencing patterns in both higher and lower courts over a 120-year period, but focused upon the decade prior to the new legislation and the four years after the 1991 Act.

It found that Victoria's prison population remained relatively stable for approximately 15 months after the introduction of "truth in sentencing" laws, increased by approximately 250 persons in a very short period thereafter, and then stabilised over the following 18 months. However, this apparent stability in prison population masked a complex series of changes, some of which had been in train prior to the legislation, some of which were due to legislative change and some of which can be attributed to changes in the socio-legal culture.

The study predicts that the Victorian prison population will rise slowly as the number of long-term prisoners accumulates and the 1991 and 1993 reforms take effect. The size of the prison population will depend not only upon the amount of crime and the number of convictions, but upon judicial responses to what appears to be a hardening of community attitudes to sentencing practices.