Criminal Law News & Current Affairs

By Kate Gunther


Is prison the only way? Rehabilitating Canberra’s offenders.

Ben Aulich & Associates’ Kate Gunther considers a new approach to punishment in the ACT:

Given recent reports of overflow in the Alexander Maconochie Centre, Canberra’s only prison, it is timely to question whether our approach to punishment is serving the community and taxpayers. With the introduction of new intensive corrections orders, are we seeing the beginning of a change in approach to rehabilitation?


The rate of recidivism is alarmingly high in people released from imprisonment. This is due to a variety of factors such as the difficult conditions in gaol and the focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation.


The prison system provides a punitive environment which may turn an anti-social individual with minor criminal indiscretions into a chronic criminal. The system is also hurting tax payers, according to the Report on Government Services 2010 it costs approximately $276 per day to accommodate a single prisoner in gaol.


Though any alternate system will necessarily require public expenditure, it is preferable to have an option which will not churn out offenders whom repeatedly drain the nation’s resources and threaten public safety.


Intensive correction orders are a promising alternate sentencing option which has recently been introduced in the ACT. After all, you never know whether friends, family or a colleague could be facing a gaol sentence.


Intensive correction orders are designed to promote rehabilitation whilst exacting an appropriate amount of punishment on the offender. They allow the offender to remain within the community and maintain their employment and social connections. This is desirable as loss of employment and social exclusion are major contributors to reoffending. Remaining active in the community enables offenders to be self-sufficient rather than debilitated.


Intensive correction orders are not to be mistaken for getting off scot free. The Court has the discretion to order strict conditions on the offender such as curfews, regular reporting to corrective services, community service, non-association orders, place restrictions, reparation orders, compulsory counselling, or compulsory breath or fluid tests. Intensive correction orders are flexible enough to impose punishments which are proportionate to the crime but also suitable to the offender’s subjective circumstances. The resulting reduction in recidivism is expected to ultimately mitigate public expenditure and create a safer society.


In the interest of rehabilitation, intensive correction orders do not separate the offender from the community. Consequently only certain offenders are eligible for an intensive correction order. Those whom the Court would otherwise order to fulltime imprisonment of four years or less may be considered for an intensive correction order. The Court exercises this discretion depending on the level of harm to the victim and the community caused by the offence; and whether the offender poses a risk to one or more people or the community; and the offender’s culpability for the offence having regard to all the circumstances.


An offender will likely be found to be unsuitable for an intensive correction order if they are highly dependent on drugs or alcohol, have a major psychological or psychiatric disorder, serious criminal record, a history of noncompliance with court orders, existing employment or personal circumstances which would make compliance with the order impractical, or a member of the offender’s household does not consent to living with them.


Breaches of an intensive corrections order may result in fulltime imprisonment, however, in the interest of avoiding recidivism, fulltime imprisonment will always be considered a last resort. Those of us in the community concerned about criminal justice in Canberra will be watching carefully over the coming years to see whether the promise of an improved sentencing scheme is fulfilled through intensive correction orders.


Kate Gunther