The Statutes Amendment (Home Detention) Bill 2016 has passed the House of Assembly and is currently awaiting assent. The gravamen cannot be overstated for those awaiting sentencing for serious matters. Whereas previously, a court having determined a sentence of imprisonment was appropriate had only to determine whether ‘good reason’ existed to suspend a sentence (that is, the sentence would not actually be required to be served subject to a bond) the amendments to the Sentencing Act now effectively introduce a further step. Upon finding that no good reason exists to suspend a sentence of imprisonment, the question is to be asked whether home detention is suitable.
What is home detention?
Home detention, heretofore reserved for those on a strict form of bail or alternatively for sentenced prisoners having served half of their non-parole period, is a custodial arrangement where the prisoner resides at their home and is allowed to leave only for specific purposes such as medical appointments, arranged shopping visits, legal appointments and, crucially, employment.
The key benefit of the introduction of the home detention sentencing arrangements is that an offender, who for whatever reason is unsuitable for a suspended sentence, is able to serve their term with a minimum of disruption to their employment, family life and without suffering the detrimental alienation from the community that inevitably follows a sentence of imprisonment.
Prisoners on home detention are required to be monitored closely by the Department of Corrections, through the use of GPS ankle bracelets, drug testing and frequent contact.
Will I be eligible?
The amending bill introducing the provisions remains untested and there is no body of law that currently defines a ‘suitable person’. The provisions are broad. The test appears to be centred on the key question of the suitability of the premises proposed for the detention and the protection of the community. Thus, it would appear that in circumstances where they may be an extant threat to a victim of violent offending, or where the prisoner has displayed a tendency for recidivism in the commission of crimes that present a danger to the community, home detention would be difficult to secure. On the other hand, all forms of non-violent offending would likely be appropriate for such a sentence.
The standard considerations with respect to the imposition of a custodial sentence, such as general and personal deterrence would still apply. Where home detention would fail to satisfy those requirements, it remains the case that notwithstanding the offending being ‘non-violent’ such a course could well result in a error of law.
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