17 July 2013


'Bonds, suspended sentences and reoffending: Does the length of the order matter?' (Australian Institute of Criminology Trends and Issues paper, 2013) by Suzanne Poynton and Don Weatherburn uses the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) Reoffending Database.

The authors assess [PDF] whether the length of a bond or suspended sentence makes any difference to the time to first new offence, and whether long bonds and suspended sentences are more effective than short bonds in reducing reoffending. They also examine whether court supervision has any effect on length of sentence, and reoffending.
In 2011, the Australian courts placed a total of 77,940 offenders on a good behaviour bond or a fully suspended sentence, accounting for 15 percent of all penalties imposed. 
The conditions under which suspended sentences and good behaviour bonds can be imposed vary from state to state. In New South Wales (where the current study was undertaken), the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) allows a court to impose a sentence of imprisonment if it is satisfied ‘having considered all possible alternatives, that no penalty other than imprisonment is appropriate’ (s 5 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act ). The court must then determine the length of the custodial sentence and decide how the custodial sentence should be served. If the term of imprisonment does not exceed two years, s 12 of the Act allows the court to suspend the prison sentence and place the offender on a good behaviour bond when released from custody. In circumstances where imprisonment may not be appropriate, s 9 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedures) Act 1999 (NSW) permits the court to make an order directing an offender to enter into a good behaviour bond for a specified term (not exceeding 5 years). The consequences arising from a breach of a suspended prison sentence or a good behaviour bond can be severe. If the conditions attached to a suspended prison sentence are breached, the court can revoke the bond and order the original sentence of imprisonment to be served. If an offender fails to comply with the conditions of a good behaviour bond, the court may sentence the offender for the original offences as if the bond had never been made; this can include imposing a term of imprisonment. As such, these alternatives to full-time custody have considerable potential to deter further offending.