Media release

New research carried out by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council has revealed the Queensland public generally overestimate their sentencing knowledge with several misconceptions clouding their understanding.

The findings, published in the Council’s recently released research brief Understanding of Sentencing: Community knowledge of sentencing terms and outcomes, unpack the thoughts and knowledge of 66 Queenslanders from focus groups in Brisbane, Townsville and Mt Isa.

Council Chair John Robertson said the tendency for Queenslanders to overestimate their sentencing knowledge could be a case of anecdotal exposure.

‘A lot of the public’s perceived sentencing knowledge comes from local crime trends and what is shown in the media or in movies and tv shows,’ Mr Robertson said.

The research revealed many people misunderstand life sentence to mean ‘in prison for a lifetime’ and most couldn’t explain the difference between common terms like parole and probation, or murder and manslaughter.

‘Even the community members who expressed a real confidence in their own understanding of these terms struggled to articulate it and were surprised when given the correct meaning,’ Mr Robertson said.

According to the report, participants tend to underestimate the proportion of offenders who get sentenced to at least one day in prison for burglary, murder and trafficking in dangerous drug offences.

Most people also underestimate how much time is spent in prison for burglary and murder yet overestimate prison time for trafficking in dangerous drugs due to an incorrect assumption that drug traffickers are typically a ‘king pin’.

‘We know the sentencing process has many nuances and can be difficult to understand.’ Mr Robertson said.

‘The Council will be using the findings of the research to drive future awareness and educational campaigns.’

‘This research, and our ongoing role in providing community education, is important because we know that improving community understanding of sentencing increases community confidence in the judicial system.’

The research brief and an accessible two-page summary is available for download on the Council’s website.

Media notes

  • A person who gets a life sentence in Queensland must spend a set minimum amount of time in prison before they can be released on parole. If they apply to the Parole Board Queensland and parole is granted, they will be on parole for the rest of their life.
  • Probation and parole both involve supervision in the community with conditions to help the person address their offending and individual needs.
  • Probation is a type of sentencing order made by a court. If a person on probation commits an offence or does not follow the conditions, they may have to go back to court.
  • Parole is part of a person’s prison sentence. If a person on parole commits an offence or does not follow the conditions, they can be returned to prison. The Parole Board decides this, not a court.
  • If a person deliberately causes the death of another person, this is murder. In Queensland, the person must be sentenced to life imprisonment, the court has no choice.
  • Manslaughter involves the unlawful killing of a person in circumstances that are not murder. One example is where the person was suffering from a major mental disorder (short of insanity) when they killed the victim (because of diminished responsibility).
  • In relation to the ‘king pin’ assumption for drug traffickers, while the median net worth for all Australian households in 2015–16 was $563,000 (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics); a 2015 paper by the Crime and Corruption Commission found that Queensland offenders involved in illicit drug markets typically hold between $100,000 and $499,999 in assets, most often in real estate.

Contact: Hayley Carter/Steph Martlew

Phone: 0459887077