A Victorian County Court judge has unleashed his frustration over the lack of proper rehabilitation for 'broken' and 'damaged' prisoners during a hearing on Thursday.
Judge Duncan Allen said the case of Sebastopol man Thomas Smith was a classic case of the tension between protecting the community through imprisonment and denying proper treatment, particularly when accessing drugs in prison exacerbated the problem and failed to break their addiction.
"The community has no interest in locking people up, people who are broken and damaged and breaking them further and failing to give them any rehabilitation of any significance," he said.
Smith, 31, 'drove like a maniac' while being chased by the police air wing in October 2020 during a drug-induced psychosis.
He stole fuel in Buninyong and then drove for two hours and 45 minutes in a dangerous attempt to avoid police across Sebastopol, Wendouree, Redan, Buninyong, Ross Creek and Enfield.
Mr Allen said considering sentencing options other than lengthy imprisonment was not a soft approach.
"If the Crown is successful in him being locked up for years, in my experience he will be denied parole, access drugs in there [jail], be released, relapse within weeks, get back in the car, drive like a maniac and next time he might kill some people," he said.
Smith drove through the Sebastopol Woolworths' car park at 70km/h, drove directly at police vehicles at 80km/h and 90km/h and drove on the wrong side of the road.
He drove towards police officers who were outside their vehicles setting up the stop sticks, caused two police cars to run off the road and caused other drivers to take evasive action.
Judge Allen ordered pre-sentence reports to provide more information about Smith's mental state.
The community has no interest in locking people up, people who are broken and damaged and breaking them further and failing to give them any rehabilitation of any significance.Judge Duncan Allen
Reports discussed at the court on Thursday detailed Smith's mental health issues and drug use, his psychosis during offending and the dangers of becoming institutionalised.
Smith had been released from a lengthy term of imprisonment only 10 weeks before this offending.
Defence lawyer Jon Irwin said there was a breakdown in his relationship and loss of employment and Smith relapsed into drug use at the time.
"It is soul destroying for him," Mr Irwin said. "He spent a lengthy period of time in custody, was released on a community corrections order and within 10 weeks he was back in for another lengthy period.
"There is a difference in his attitude now in terms of what he is aware of in his own mental and physical weaknesses and what he needs to do to stay out of trouble."
Judge Allen said the link between rehabilitation and protection of the community was clear, particularly given a doctor identified possible borderline personality disorder.
"He has been in and out of jail and it hasn't changed anything," he said.
Judge Allen said a concerning part of the doctor's report was an indication Smith had been accessing drugs while in custody.
"This is a classic case of the tension between the view that the community is best protected by locking people up, then they are denied parole and not given the proper treatment they need and deserve to receive," he said.
Judge Allen said he wanted a further psychological assessment completed because antisocial and borderline personality disorder was potentially a matter in mitigation.
"It is also potentially important in terms of assessing Mr Smith's prospects of rehabilitation," he said.
Judge Allen said he wanted to take time to have a nuanced look at the best way to protect the community in the years to come, for someone who is as 'damaged' and 'dangerous' as Smith.
"He has just turned 30," he said.
"Community protection is not achieved by warehousing someone, denying them treatment, having such a hopeless system they get access to drugs when they want, refusing them parole, leaving them on the streets and locking them up again.
"Last time I reached this level of frustration I retired. I am sick of it.
"This morning I had in court a man who has a range of serious psychiatric illnesses going back decades. He has been on a community corrections order since May.
"Nothing has happened because everywhere corrections turn there is a wait list."
Smith pleaded guilty at the County Court in April to seven counts of driving in the vicinity of an emergency worker, recklessly exposing them to risk.
He also pleaded guilty to one count each of handling stolen number plates, fuel theft, driving while disqualified and drug-driving.
Smith will return to court in November for further plea and sentencing, when another psychological report will be provided.