WHITE collar criminals locked up in the Australian state of New South Wales could be forced to pay AUS$50,000 (£22,000) a year for their stay in prison if a law proposed by the state's premier is passed.
In an unprecedented move Bob Carr has announced plans to charge white collar offenders and prisoners jailed for drug-related crimes for the full cost of their incarceration.
But the Law Society of New South Wales has opposed the plan, saying it will be “surprised” if the proposal is ever enacted.
Society president Maurie Stack says although Carr has the support of both his party and opposition members, when the proposal is considered in detail it is expected the government will backtrack.
However, Carr is currently standing firm, saying the costs of imprisonment, equivalent to those charged by a five-star hotel, should be met by prisoners with means.
“We're talking about prisoners with a reserve of wealth,” says Carr.
“I want to see them pay the full cost of imprisonment. I'm not talking about a token contribution.”
But Stack says the law cannot advocate two sets of rules for offenders.
“It's a proposal which would instinctively appeal to most people, but there's a number of things that have to be borne in mind,” says Stack. “Our judicial system is intended to operate fairly and equally between people, whether they are rich or poor.
“If therefore you're going to introduce what is effectively a fine of AUS$50,000 per annum, clearly that's a matter which ought to be taken into account by a sentencing judge in determining what other sentence is to be imposed.”
The government is currently refusing to make sentencing allowances in its proposal and Carr has publicly stated that legislation would direct judges to ignore tariffs in sentencing.
He is also pressing ahead with the idea despite arguments supporting the needs of prisoners' dependants.
Stack says Carr has also failed to realise that the majority of prisoners in NSW are not affluent, and that those who are would dispense with their assets before trial and create expensive legal bills for the system to recoup funds.
“There are very few prisoners in jails in New South Wales who have AUS$50,000 spare,” says Stack. “The truth is that there would be a very small amount of money raised by this type of scheme and there may well be considerable costs attached to raising it.
“When the government fully analyses the benefits and the potential costs I doubt that they will proceed.”