A criminal law specialist has spoken out against the Victorian Government’s new plan to introduce mandatory jail sentences for violent teen offenders.

The mandatory sentencing plan would see teenagers, aged 16 and 17 years, face at least two years in youth detention for offences of gross violence, which means intentionally causing a serious injury.

Criminal Law specialist George Defteros criticised the proposal and said a judge or magistrate is in the best position to come up with and tailor a sentence to suit the individual offender.

“If you introduce mandatory sentencing you may as well just punch all the details into a computer and let it come out with a mandatory sentence that ought to be imposed,” he said. “Circumstances of offenders vary considerably, someone might have prior convictions, the circumstances of assault may be aggravated, they may not be. It’s always up to individual sentencers; sentences are passed on and addressed over many, many years of precedence.” Ascertaining the type and nature of the sentence an offender ought to receive is extremely difficult, Mr Defteros told Neos Kosmos.

In the juvenile system a judge or magistrate must take into account the offender’s age above all else, while reports – psychiatric, psychological or pre-sentence – will often be ordered.

“Magistrates and judges are very experienced in this area to be able to come up with the type of sentence that is imposed that would benefit all of the aspects of sentencing, including general deterrence, which is what the community is most interested in, specific deterrence for the offender himself and then you’ve got aspects of rehabilitation and aspects of sentencing which would in fact benefit not only the community but benefit the offender,” Defteros said.

“You’ve got to balance all of those factors up. I don’t think simply locking up people, throwing away the key and building more jails is going to help.” The new crackdown could be a quick fix to the increase in publicised violent incidents, Defteros said. “I don’t believe violence is growing in the community but there certainly seems to be a lot more reporting of violent incidents,” he said. Critics have slammed the proposal, saying it could even exacerbate the problem.

“I think it is a concern,” Defteros said. “These offenders are very young and impressionable; there’s a suggestion it may breed more crime in itself if they become institutionalised from a young age,” he said.

A number of measures, namely rehabilitation, should be implemented before mandatory sentencing, Defteros said.

“The serious nature of their conduct can be addressed in different ways than just locking them up and throwing away the key,” he said.

“All of this has to be balanced to society’s expectations. Having listened to a detailed plea, having read all the material, having ordered a pre-sentence report, having based the sentence on precedence developed over many, many years, a judge or magistrate is in the best possible position to passa sentence.”