Sunday, January 16, 2011

Warning that tough bail laws create criminals

By Geesche Jacobson, SMH, 15 January 2011:
THE state's tougher bail laws have created a serious social problem, jailing an increasing number of people for lengthy periods and guaranteeing more will become repeat offenders, a former magistrate has warned.
As the number of people in prison awaiting trial continues to grow - many of whom will ultimately be found not guilty - they risked losing their jobs and contact with their families, said Max Taylor, who is also head of the Bail Reform Alliance.
About a quarter of inmates in NSW prisons, 2500 people, have been refused bail and one-third of them have been in jail for more than six months, many much longer.
According to the latest court statistics, more than 1500 people were found not guilty or had all charges dismissed in NSW courts in 2009 after spending time on remand; 205 of them were juveniles.
People who previously would have been granted bail now risk being turned into serious criminals in prison, Mr Taylor said.
The shadow Attorney-General, Greg Smith, who has foreshadowed a Coalition government would urgently change the bail laws before a more thorough review, said it was a concern for anyone to spend time on remand when there was insufficient evidence against them, or they did not face a serious charge.
If they were later acquitted they had ''in effect served a sentence'', he said. ''That sort of offends the community culture that you are not guilty unless proven so … A lot of people have been concerned in recent times that the presumption of innocence does not seem to be honoured as strongly as it was in the past so that bail is refused and used as part of the punishment,'' he said.
Barrister Dymphna Hawkins said the change in bail law meant cases where there was a presumption in favour of bail were now rare.
She said many people were getting so desperate on remand, they were willing to plead guilty just to get their matter resolved.
''It's easy to get put into custody but hard to get out and even harder to find services to support you on the way out,'' Ms Hawkins said. ''We are putting people on remand who are presumed to be innocent with people … who are serious offenders. It is a bad environment.''
''There's a hell of a lot of drugs in jail … you can be stood over and you can be raped.''
Bail used to balance the needs of the community and the person accused, Mr Taylor said, and there was no evidence that putting people in prison reduced the crime rate, he said.
''Jails are dangerous places. If people are spending lengthy periods in custody on remand … it guarantees more people … will become repeat offenders. All we are doing is building a massive social problem for ourselves.''

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