Mia Schlicht On Criminal Justice Reform 3AW Melbourne – 30 October 2023

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30 October 2023
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In this interview, Research Analyst Mia Schlicht discusses the need for criminal justice reform and better sentencing options.

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Below is a transcript of the interview.


Tom Elliott:

All right, so this is an interesting idea for punishing people. Now, former Victorian Cabinet Minister Russell Northe, he’s been sentenced to 21 months in prisons, so the best part of two years. He pled guilty to misconduct in public office offences, which included claiming over $175,000 in false administrative expenses. So essentially he’s guilty of pinching 175 grand from the public purse. Now, I mentioned before it costs over 100 grand to incarcerate a prisoner. Apparently, it’s almost $200,000 a year in Victoria. So if Russell Northe goes to jail for the best part of two years, it’s going to cost us around $350,000. Our next guest thinks that instead of that we should tax him extra. Mia Schlicht is a Criminal Justice Reform Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs. Mia, good afternoon.

Mia Schlicht:

Good afternoon. Thank you for having me.

Tom Elliott:

So how would this work? Let’s just say this option was in front of Russell Northe. Instead of him going to jail for 21 months, he kept working, stayed out of jail. You’re saying tax him extra?

Mia Schlicht:

Exactly right. First and foremost, it’s important to highlight that Russell Northe has done the wrong thing and he absolutely needs to be punished and he should be punished harshly. However, he is nonviolent and does not pose a large community safety threat and ultimately his imprisonment will end up costing the taxpayer. So our reform proposes that, instead of placing the burden on taxpayers to pay for his crimes, he should pay for it himself in the form of a super taxation offender levy.

Tom Elliott:

Do we know though that he won’t re-offend? If we did this and he sort of gets off perhaps more lightly than he would otherwise do, are we certain that he wouldn’t re-offend?

Mia Schlicht:

That’s why this offender levy would be imposed to a significant degree to ensure that it’s punitive enough to make sure that he would not do it again. Now, the biggest motivator for financial crimes is financial gain, which is why this should be imposed to ensure that there is no financial gain here.

Tom Elliott:

Right. So how much extra would you tax him or would you propose taxing him?

Mia Schlicht:

So there would be a one-off sign of the $180,000 that was wrongfully obtained in the first place, and that would go back to the victims. And then, on top of that, there’d be a taxation levy which would be imposed, which would be two-thirds of all of the income derived by Russell Northe, and the total total payable would be double the amount wrongfully obtained. So in this situation it’d be 360,000.

Tom Elliott:

Right. So immediate fine equal to the money he stole, call it 180 grand, and then he works and pays a taxation rate of 66 and two-thirds percent until he’s paid another double that? So another $360,000?

Mia Schlicht:

Exactly right. So in total he’ll be paying back over just over half a million dollars back to the state.

Tom Elliott:

Given he’s been found guilty of a financial crime, what are the chances of him getting a decent job whereby he’d have any possibility of repaying those amounts of money?

Mia Schlicht:

So this would be a programme that would need to be administered by the courts and it would be an extension of programmes that have already currently been put in place, such as diversionary programmes for drug offenders. And this would just be the logical next step for financial offenders. Now, currently, in Victoria, one in four businesses actually can’t find the workers they need, so willing businesses could apply for this scheme and they could employ non-violent offenders who pose limited risk to community safety to work for them and pay back their fine.

Tom Elliott:

Could he realistically get by if he’s having two-thirds of his after tax wage taken away?

Mia Schlicht:

This obviously would need to be at the discretion of judges and it would not be appropriate for all offenders, but particularly for high net worth individuals who were taking hundreds or thousands of dollars from victims and who do have the financial means to pay back those victims, this should be the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system rather than incarcerating them and putting them up in prisons, which essentially has Victorian taxpayers paying for their time.

Tom Elliott:

The extra money that you tax them, would that go to the Victorian government? Who would it go to?

Mia Schlicht:

It would depend on the kind of crime that has been committed, whether it was against an organisation or an individual, but ultimately restoring the victims is the first goal. And on top of that, the added levy would go back into the criminal justice system into mechanisms that could prevent crimes from occurring in the first place, such as putting more police on the streets.

Tom Elliott:

Okay. Thank you. Interesting. Mia Schlicht there, Criminal Justice Reform Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs. So what she’s saying is, you commit, let’s say a financial type of crime, steal money, the court judges that you’re unlikely to re-offend, we can either stick you in jail at the cost of almost $200,000 a year, or you can stay out of the slammer and work, but your after tax pay, so you pay the normal rate of tax and then what is left, two-thirds of that would also be taken away so you wouldn’t have much money left at all to help pay your debt to society. It could work. I think the problem is though, is that if someone’s paying tax and then whatever’s left after tax, you’re paying two-thirds of that back to the state government, the chances are you’re not going to have enough money to live on and that might cause a person to go and commit further crimes.

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