Mass murderer Julian Knight has been granted leave to challenge a decision to ban him from access to a computer in his prison cell, which he says he needs to prepare for legal proceedings in the Supreme and High Courts. Knight has been declared a vexatious litigant because he frequently launches futile law suits, which means he now needs the Court’s permission to sue. He is expected to challenge the Corrections Amendment (Parole) Bill 2014 if it is passed, because it names him as the only prisoner who must be denied parole unless his death is imminent. The High Court has previously struck down a NSW law that purported to keep a specific prisoner locked up after his release date. However, the Victorian bill differs in that Knight is serving seven consecutive life sentences, and eligibility for parole is a matter for the executive rather than the judiciary.
A County Court judge has criticised the mandatory sentencing that applies to people smuggling offences. The comments came during a plea hearing for a refugee who was found guilty of helping other refugees, including his family, enter Australia. Judge Dean suggested the mandatory penalty would create injustice: “One can understand why it happened and why a person would want to assist their own family or his wife’s family to travel or leave circumstances of persecution. It’s not lawful but it’s certainly explicable. He goes to prison and they are permanent residents.” The offender must be sentenced to a head sentence of at least five years, and a non-parole period of at least three years. Late last year, the High Court ruled that the sentencing regime was valid.
Crime reporter John Silvester considers the plight of the ten Victorian men who have been sentenced to life in prison without parole: “Those who refer to prisons as luxurious motel-style facilities either have never been inside one or need to check Trip Advisor before booking their next holiday destination (a toilet seat would be nice). Prisons are bleak, boring and scary.” He notes that “[i]t is not only civil libertarians and subeditors who call for shorter sentences. Many police and prosecutors privately say young offenders should be sent to jail only as a last resort, while career criminals should be treated severely.”
“People are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment,” says a senior manager at Canberra’s “human rights-compliant” prison, the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Prisoners are housed in cottage-style accommodation, with freedom to move around large shared areas during the day, and with no “lights out” time at night. The prison builds life skills through individual learning plans, and works with released prisoners for a year after their sentence finishes; early indications suggest it is reducing the rate of recidivism.
In Victorian courts, it was common practice (and often a requirement) that prosecutors make submissions about the “acceptable range” of sentences open to the judge—and this recommendation was often the subject of plea bargaining. In Barbaro’s case, the High Court ruled that this practice must stop.