Half of offenders breached community correction order in program's first year, report finds

IN 2012, the community correction order was introduced to replace suspended sentences in Victoria.

At the time, former attorney-general Robert Clark promised the orders would improve public safety and reduce crime.

“A new comprehensive community correction order... will put real teeth back into community sentencing,” he told the parliament.

But a report released today has shown that in the first 12 months of the program, the court-imposed orders were struggling to stop re-offending.

The Sentencing Advisory Council studied 7645 offenders who were placed on community correction orders from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

They found half of the offenders breached their order – 35 per cent by re-offending, 15 per cent through non-compliance, committing 15,941 offences.

Of those who re-offended, 44 per cent committed a theft or dishonesty offence, and 39 per cent committed a driving offence. The study also found 44 per cent of those re-offended within the first three months – four per cent within the first week.

The study found many re-offend before Corrections Victoria has a chance to address their behaviour.

Young offenders are likely to be placed on the orders. But they are also likely to breach their orders.

The study found offenders aged under 25 are nearly twice as likely to re-offend.

Sentencing Advisory Council chair Arie Freiberg said the results showed the importance of connecting offenders with rehabilitation as soon as possible.

“To prevent re-offending, support services and programs need to start as soon as possible after offenders receive their CCO, because the first few months after sentencing are when re-offending is most likely to start,” he said.

“This was especially important for young offenders.”

Community correction orders are non-custodial, but their conditions can be punitive. They allow offenders to address the cause of their offending, and offer rehabilitation, while remaining under the watch of the state.

In short: they are an alternative to prison, and sit just below imprisonment in the sentencing hierarchy.

The report identified drug-related crime – specifically methamphetamine – as common among those who re-offended while on community correction orders.

It speculated that the theft, dishonesty and weapons offences were likely connected to drugs. A further 7 per cent also directly committed a drug offence – use, possession or trafficking.

These categories totaled more than half of the re-offending, not including drug driving.

Given community correction orders are often designed to address drug use, these statistics raised a number of questions.

A Managing Community Corrections Orders report from the auditor-general this year found there was an unacceptable waiting time for offenders attempting to access rehabilitation.

“Increasing demand for support programs and services means that offenders may face significant wait times before they can access support,” the report stated.

“This is concerning, as timely access to support programs and services reduces the risk of offenders on CCOs committing further crimes.”

The result echoed a study by the Australian Institute of Criminology which found that, in 2014-15, half of those in custody had consumed methamphetamine in the last 12 months, compared to 2.1 per cent of the general population.

Weapons offences attracted the highest rate of re-offending.

Fifty per cent of those given a community correction order in the Magistrates’ Court for a weapons offence went on to re-offend, while a further 17 per cent breached the conditions of their order.

The orders also did not appear to be a deterrent to those who had breached intervention orders – 44% went on to re-offend. Nine out of 10 already had prior convictions.

The data came from a 12-month period from four years ago, but the program has frequently changed and evolved since.

In January, a new case management framework was put in place to manage family violence offenders who were serving community correction orders.

Corrections Victoria has also changed the way it assesses an offender’s risk.

While the orders appeared to be struggling to stop re-offending, there was at least one positive outcome in the report: Keeping offenders on community correction orders remained a far cheaper option than imprisonment.

It costs just over $10,000 per year to manage one offender on a community correction orders – compared with $131,700 per year for each prisoner.

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