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Reforms send use of preventive detention soaring

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

17 January 2005
Media statement

Reforms send use of preventive detention soaring

Reform of preventive detention under the Sentencing Act 2002 has resulted in a dramatic increase in its use, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

"In the two and a half years since the Sentencing Act 2002 came into force, 56 offenders were sentenced to preventive detention, compared with 58 in the previous five years. In 2004, 34 offenders received the sentence, nearly twice the previous high of 18 in the year to June 2000," Mr Goff said.

"Preventive detention is an indeterminate, life-long sentence, which is imposed on the highest-risk offenders and which means they need never be released from jail if they are still considered a risk to the community. Those who are released can be recalled at any point for the rest of their lives.

"The Sentencing Act 2002 significantly broadened the ability of judges to impose preventive detention. It extended the number of qualifying sexual offences from 12 to 20 and the number of qualifying violent offences from five to 18, thereby dramatically increasing the scope of preventive detention.

"In addition, the Sentence Act also removed the requirement of a conviction for a previous specified offence, lowered the mandatory minimum term from 10 years to five, and lowered the age of eligibility to 18, from 21.

"These figures show the government's reforms have had the intended consequences. Preventive detention is now being imposed on a wider range of offenders in cases where the courts feel a finite sentence does not offer adequate protection to the public.

"Of particular note is the fact that judges are now more able to sentence offenders to preventive detention for violent, as opposed to sexual, offending. There were eight such cases in 2004 and two such cases in 2003, but prior to the Sentencing Act 2002 there had been only one other case.

"In the year to June 2004, criminals were for the first time sentenced for preventive detention for aggravated robbery, kidnapping and the use of a firearm against a law enforcement officer. The sentence was also applied four times for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and once for aggravated wounding.

"These were all people deemed sufficiently dangerous that it was appropriate to impose a sentence on them that allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely and under supervision until the day they die.

Preventive detention, however, continues to be used most frequently against serious recidivist sexual offenders.

"Had the sentence been more widely available and applied in the 1990s, the community would have been spared a great deal of anguish over a number of habitual paedophiles who received finite sentences and who under law had to be put back into the community at the end of their sentence," Mr Goff said.


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