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OPINION: Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie continues to push for mandatory sentencing despite evidence that it is ineffective

"MANDATORY sentencing might sound attractive, but it's a nonsense."

So wrote my Courier-Mail colleague Des Houghton, hardly a fellow traveller with civil libertarians and bleeding heart lefties, so it must be right.

However, it is possible he might have changed his views since he wrote that in August 2011.

After all, if Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie speaks for the Government, it would seem that Premier Campbell Newman too has had a heart bypass on the issue.


In June 2011, Newman was reported to have ditched the Liberal National Party's policy of mandatory minimum sentences, warning that it could lead judges and juries to let guilty offenders go free to avoid the tougher terms.

"We don't want to go down the route of mandatory sentencing for the reasons that I have said,'' he told a Media Club lunch.

"But we hope therefore that the judiciary will reflect community expectations.''

Bleijie, disagrees, petulantly declaring he could extend the mandatory rules to ensure that criminals convicted of burglary, car theft and sex offences go to jail.

Bleijie, who is yet to demonstrate he is capable of drafting valid legislation to crack down on littering, proposes the most reactionary laws since Ned Kelly's mum was charged with "furious riding" in Benalla in 1875.


Rebuffed in the Court of Appeal in his bid to become judge, jury and turnkey for sexual offenders, facing the real possibility of having his bikie laws overturned in the High Court and confronted with a judicial backfire on his anachronistic solitary confinement rules, he has turned to the base popularise of mandatory sentencing for property and sexual offences.


And he has fallen back on the High Court, which he noted had recently ruled that mandatory sentencing (for people smuggling) is "valid and at the discretion of the legislature to be introduced''.

True, but the court did not rule it was right and it did not rule that it was effective.

It is wrong.

To quote Houghton again: "Sentencing criminals is a complex, onerous task best left to experts trained to examine each case on its merits.''

And it is ineffective.

The evidence from around the world is that mandatory sentencing is, at best, a marginally effective but hideously expensive way of reducing crime.

At worse, there is statistical evidence (including from the Northern Territory) that its very inflexibility can lead to an increase in property crime.

And it is difficult to find any evidence that it reduces recidivism.

In the United States, the intergalactic leader in banging up citizens, mandatory sentencing (particularly of the three-strikes variety) has filled its prisons to overflowing with no discernible benefit.

What it has done is establish an online industry devoted to reporting terrible injustices and demonstrating that such regimes are intrinsically discriminatory.

It has been such a dud that US Attorney-General Eric Holder is moving to wind back mandatory sentencing provisions that are stuffing federal prisons with small-time crooks and junkies.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law-enforcement reason,'' Holder said.

But, Queensland prefers to admire the petty pink uniform initiatives of the posturing, possibly crooked and definitely crackpot Joe Arpaio and his barbaric tent city penal colony in Arizona.

Tough talk is seen to respond to voters' fears but that, too, is problematical.

Australian researcher Peter Grabosky reported that in the US a majority supported mandatory laws but, when faced with specific cases, a similar majority favoured exceptions to the rules.

However, there are no exceptions, not even for larcenous grannies, under mandatory sentencing.

People, like pollies, are better at talking the talk than walking the walk.

American lawyer and criminologist Frank Zimring once wrote that "the problems with mandatory sentences are not the result of 'sloppy drafting' but the fact that we lack the capacity to define into formal law the nuances of situation, intent, and social harm that condition the seriousness of particular criminal acts.

"The tenor of these arguments is that just sentencing requires an assessment of the special circumstances of each case that only a judge is in a position to make."

Experience would suggest that in Queensland we could not entirely discount the possibility of sloppy drafting. Talk about double jeopardy for our civil liberties. Neil Morgan, in the University of NSW Law Journal, concluded that mandatory sentencing did not live up to its stated objectives but pondered: "Perhaps the real question is nothing to do with law, criminal justice or crime prevention.

"Perhaps it is whether the symbolic power of mandatories is such that they help politicians win elections.''