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Rehabilitation in Tasmania

When a Tasmanian court sentences a criminal offender, it must give consideration to the purposes of punishment. Although it is more common to think of a criminal sentence as punitive, one of the main purposes of punishment is actually the rehabilitation of the offender. Rehabilitation is the reintegration of a convicted offender into society to stop reoffending. This article explains the role of rehabilitation in Tasmania.

Purposes Of Sentencing In Criminal Cases In Tasmania

The Sentencing Act 1997 specifies the factors that a judge must assess when sentencing a criminal offender. Under the Act, courts may impose sentencing orders for one or more of the following purposes:

  • Denunciation;
  • Deterrence;
  • Retribution;
  • Consideration of the victim’s interests;
  • Protection of wider community; and
  • Rehabilitation.

In practice, the sentencing judge often has to balance these (sometimes contradictory) purposes. For instance, while retribution may call for a period of imprisonment, rehabilitation might suggest a community order with mandatory treatment is more appropriate.  It is up to the court to balance these purposes and pass a sentence that is consistent with previous sentences and most suitable for the particular offender.


The purpose of criminal rehabilitation is to help an offender change their behaviour by addressing the factors that led them to offend in the first place. When the court passes sentence for the purpose of rehabilitation, it should address the contributing factors that led to the offending. The sentencing judge should encourage the offender to resume life as a contributing member of society while learning from their mistakes.

A judge who imposes a sentence with a view to rehabilitation might order treatment or re-education of the offender to better able them to live a crime-free life. For instance, someone found guilty of driving under the influence may be ordered to enter a drug diversion program to prevent them from repeating their criminal behaviour.  

The court can order any type of program or treatment that is deemed necessary for the offender’s rehabilitation. The judge might mandate that an offender attend anger management courses or mental health treatment as part of their sentence. It must be noted that imprisonment can also be seen as a means of rehabilitation. However, any sentence that is for rehabilitation purposes should be proportional to the seriousness of the crime. The principle of proportionality insists that a judge must make a ruling based on the gravity of the charged crime rather than the offender’s need for rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is a priority when sentencing an offender, even if the person has a long criminal history. Martin J emphasised in Bamaga v Trenerry (1992) that it is in the community’s interests to encourage rehabilitation for all offenders. Otherwise, offenders with bad records would feel there is no point in trying to rehabilitate. Still, there are some cases where the judge does not give significant weight to rehabilitation in sentencing. These are typically cases where the offender continues to appear before court on similar offences despite numerous opportunities to rehabilitate themselves through sentencing orders.

On the other hand, a judge is more likely to make a sentence prioritising rehabilitation where the offender has already taken steps to improve their lifestyle. For instance, an offender who voluntarily attends substance abuse treatment or therapy is a good candidate for rehabilitation. A judge is less likely to impose a sentence for specific deterrence when the offender is taking the initiative to rehabilitate themselves.

Youth offenders and Rehabilitation In Tasmania

The courts are particularly focused on rehabilitation when sentencing young offenders. The law recognises that young people are more liable to make mistakes, but they have a greater potential for rehabilitation if they are kept out of the criminal justice system. Judges have consistently demonstrated a preference for young people to remain in their homes and continue their schooling.

An offender aged between ten and eighteen is typically sentenced under the Youth Justice Act 1997. Some of the stated objectives of this Act are that:

  • The youth is dealt with in a way that encourages them to accept responsibility for their actions; and
  • Any sanctions give the offender a chance to develop a sense of social responsibility and progress in beneficial ways.

A court must only sentence a young person to youth detention as a last resort. Instead, the court can dismiss the young offender with a reprimand, release them under certain conditions, on probation, or place them on a good behaviour bond. The courts sometimes also order an offender to rehabilitate themselves through community service.

The Go To Court criminal law team can answer any questions you have about the role of rehabilitation in criminal sentences. Please call 1300 636 846 or use this form to make an enquiry about any legal matter.


Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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