New laws to impose a mandatory sentence for assaults on emergency services workers are poorly considered, rushed and misguided, says Jesuit Social Services.

“These laws will unfairly impact on vulnerable Victorians, remove judicial discretion, and further clog our courts and prison systems,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

The expanded application of mandatory sentences may also change the way emergency services workers respond to incidents, as they are forced to choose between their safety and sending someone to jail, a concern Ms Edwards says is shared by members of the community services and legal sectors.

“This Bill has been introduced with little to no consultation of our sectors, despite the potential reach and harmful impact of the new laws. We call for an end to mandatory sentencing and a focus on evidence-based policies that actually prevent and reduce crime.”

Ms Edwards adds that mandatory sentencing does not allow for consideration of the individual circumstances behind each offence, and undermines judicial discretion.

“Judges and magistrates must be given the scope to hand down a sentence which will address the causes of the offending and reduce the chance of reoffending in each case,” says Ms Edwards.

“We are extremely disappointed to note that the Bill only permits for narrow exceptions for cases involving people with mental or cognitive impairments.

“Many people in the prison system are dealing with a range of multiple and complex problems that are a contributing factor to their behaviour. If our justice system looks for one-size-fits-all sentencing solutions instead of focusing on holding people to account while supporting them to address these problems, it is not doing anything to work towards safer communities.”

Ms Edwards says the new laws would have a particularly detrimental impact on young people, with the Government outlining that people aged 18 to 20 years at the time of the offence are ‘no longer able to rely upon their immaturity as a special reason’.

“Evidence from around the world shows us that brain development continues until a person is in their late 20s. It is vital that our criminal justice system responds to and treats young people differently to adults – this Bill is a dangerous step away from this.”

The Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced into Parliament today. The Bill means custodial sentences will have to be imposed on anybody convicted of injuring an emergency services worker including police, paramedic, doctor or nurse.

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