“The decision to grant Ryan Wells bail yesterday is further evidence that Victoria’s criminal justice system is out of touch with community standards,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
Wells was granted bail by the Frankston Magistrates’ Court after being accused of committing an unprovoked assault, footage of which was widely distributed over the weekend.
“Community safety must always be the highest priority of the criminal justice system. We cannot tolerate wanton acts of violence.”
“Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is under strain, with remand numbers growing rapidly. But this is a political failing and should not influence the way magistrates and the police do their jobs.”
Thirty-one percent of those in Victoria’s jails are on remand, up from 19 percent in 2007. Incarceration has grown by more than 70 percent in the past ten years.
However, despite the growth in incarceration in Victoria, the state has also shown itself to be more lenient towards violent crime than other jurisdictions in Australia. Nationally, 22.5 percent of offenders convicted of acts intended to cause injury are sentenced to prison; in Victoria this figure is 16.8 percent. Similarly, nationwide 48.2 percent of those convicted of sexual assault and related offences are sentenced to prison, as against 37.1 percent in Victoria.
“The only way to interpret these figures is that there is a disconnect between Victoria’s judiciary and common sense.”
“We have prisons because violent criminals must be removed from the community, but the most serious offence of up to 46 percent of prisoners was a nonviolent offence.”
“These are resources that could be going towards taking violent criminals off our streets.”
Mr Bushnell said that the figures point to a need for far-reaching criminal justice reform, aimed at taking violent criminals out of the community while strengthening alternative punishments for nonviolent, lower-risk offenders.
“Apart from the terrible message that it sends to victims and the community, another side effect of a lax approach to violent crime is that it makes sensible criminal justice reform less viable.”
Experience from the United States shows that the reform process should begin with an independent audit of the entire criminal justice system.
“This is the only way we will get to the bottom of the bizarre decisions that have been taken in recent years by government and the judiciary that threaten community safety,” said Mr Bushnell.