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Media Release: Sentences in NSW among the most severe in Australia

Sentencing in NSW: A cross-jurisdictional comparison of full-time imprisonment, Research Monograph 39

A recent study by the Judicial Commission of NSW poses the question “How do sentencing patterns in NSW compare with other jurisdictions?” The results of the study demonstrate that NSW is more punitive than other jurisdictions in Australia.

To compare the severity or leniency of sentences imposed in NSW with those imposed in other jurisdictions, the study focuses on five common offence categories dealt with mostly at District and County Court level in NSW, Queensland and Victoria — sexual assault; child sexual assault; dangerous/culpable driving causing death; robbery; and break and enter/burglary. These three States have very similar maximum penalties for the offences analysed. The study focuses on the use of full-time imprisonment because it is a reliable measure of the punitiveness of any criminal justice system.

The analysis reveals:

  • The rates of full-time imprisonment in NSW from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2013 for all five offence categories examined were — sexual assault (92.6%), child sexual assault (89.0%), dangerous/culpable driving causing death (66.8%), robbery (80.2%), and break and enter/burglary (69.0%).
  • Comparatively, NSW had higher full-time imprisonment rates than Queensland and Victoria for all five offence categories examined:
    • NSW had a higher rate of imprisonment than Victoria and Queensland for sexual assault of a child under 10 years of age (89.0%, 76.1% and 70.0% respectively) 
    • NSW had a higher rate of imprisonment than Victoria and Queensland for dangerous/culpable driving causing death (66.8%, 54.8% and 35.7% respectively).
    • NSW had longer median head sentences than both Queensland and Victoria for the offences of child sexual assault, robbery and break and enter/burglary:
    • the median head sentence in NSW for sexual assault of a child under 10 was 84 months compared with 48 months in Victoria and 72 months in Queensland
    • the median head sentence in NSW for robbery was 44 months, for Victoria 36 months, and Queensland 36 months
    • the median head sentence for armed robbery in NSW was 49 months, which was far longer than in Victoria where it was 36 months (specific data for armed robbery in Queensland was unavailable)
    • the median head sentence in NSW for break and enter/burglary was 36 months compared with 24 months in both Victoria and Queensland.

The imprisonment rate per 100,000 head of population is another measure of the effect of bail and sentencing laws in a particular jurisdiction. The study also compares the imprisonment rate per 100,000 in the adult population in NSW with a number of Australian and international jurisdictions. In 2014, the imprisonment rate per 100,000 adult population in NSW (181.7) was much higher than Victoria (134.4) and lower than Queensland (192.9). The study also reports on Indigenous imprisonment rates which remain high. As at 30 June 2014, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders constitute 23.6% of NSW prisoners. 

Commenting on the findings, the Judicial Commission’s Chief Executive Mr Ernie Schmatt said: “This study reinforces the findings of the Commission’s 2007 study that, for the five categories of offences examined, sentences in NSW are more severe than other Australian jurisdictions compared.”

See Research Monograph 39.

 
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