Dangerous Offenders Legislation

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The new Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act (2003) In Queensland permits prisoners to be kept in prison beyond their release date where a court finds that there is a ‘high degree of probability’ that they represent a ‘serious danger to the community’. Other jurisdictions have enacted similar legislation to restrict the release of prisoners assessed to be dangerous. Do you think that dangerousness legislation of this sort is justified or unjustified?

Several states across the Country have enacted or attempted to enact legislation which can enable detention of a prisoner past his/her release date. This type of legislation’s general purpose is to provide a mechanism whereby prisoners who, if released pose an unacceptable risk of committing further serious offences, may be detained where it is deemed appropriate to do so for the protection of the community (Field, 2003). The most recent of these being the Queensland Government’s passing of the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003. Similar laws were introduced in New South Wales in 1994, however they were ultimately ruled invalid by the High Court. Prior to this in 1991 Victoria enacted legislation known as the Community Protection Act 1990, which allowed for the continued detention of one prisoner known as Garry David. Whilst this Act applied to no one else the Victorian Government attempted to broaden the legislation with Draft Bill proposals which ultimately lapse in the face of wide ranging criticism from lawyer, psychiatrists and academics. (Greig 1995)

This type of legislation has been devised to allow for the detention of people based upon assessments of risk of re-offending, this essay will explore the concerns with these practices. This essay further aims to explore the moral and practical implications of such sentencing provisions and the impact it has on the whole Justice System. The writer will also address the conflicting goals of Corrections and the purpose and impact of indefinite sentencing while exploring the justifications against such legislation. This essay also aims to show that even though we may feel disgust for these types of offences we must remember the fundamentals of the Criminal Law system and understand that people are entitled to equality and fairness in the eyes of the law.

It has been suggested that this type of legislation has largely been introduced to fi...

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...on. However the subjective nature of detaining someone after their release date is further complicated by the fact that there is no accurate basis for determining which offenders are likely to re-offend and which ones are not (Wortley and Smallbone, 2003).

Is this type of legislation justified? In simple terms no. It removes basic human rights such as the Common Law belief of innocent until proven guilty, it also takes away the adversarial nature of our justice system and replaces it with the possibility of arbitrary imprisonment (NSW Law Commission, 2004). This type of legislation also fails to adequately balance the goals of Imprisonment instead focuses on the punitive goals and contradicts the goal of rehabilitation.

People detained under this legislation can be forgiven for arguing that they are being punished over and over again for their crimes whilst some offenders get to serve their time and move on with their lives. Unfortunately the very principle of the legislation is to detain offenders until they are no longer a risk, when in reality the risk of re-offending could escalate because of the powerful feeling of injustice created by the legislation.

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