Chief Justice Lucy McCallum says her focus is on "the long game" as debate rages over the effectiveness of sentences imposed on traffic offenders in the ACT.
The territory's top judge on Friday responded to what she called "angst in the community", saying the key to stopping criminal behaviour was to address its causes.
She made that comment as she rejected chief Crown prosecutor Anthony Williamson's call for drug-driver Mitchell Ryan Laidlaw, 35, to be immediately sentenced to a full-time jail term over a crash that killed disability advocate Sue Salthouse.
Chief Justice McCallum instead delayed imposing Laidlaw's sentence and ordered an assessment of his eligibility for a drug and alcohol treatment order, revoking his bail after he allegedly committed another drug-driving offence.
"This man is spiralling," the ACT Supreme Court judge said of Laidlaw.
"He has a drug problem, which he is not acknowledging and which is now affecting every area of his life."
She added Laidlaw was "his own worst enemy", describing him as exactly the sort of person for whom the criminal justice system could effectively intervene.
Chief Justice McCallum also labelled prison "a blunt tool" in terms of rehabilitation when compared with intensive correction orders or more therapeutic sentencing options, like drug and alcohol treatment programs.
She said putting offenders on the straight and narrow benefited both them and the community at large.
"My concern is the long game," she said.
The veteran judge's comments came after a week in which the ACT's courts have been criticised by the likes of Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana, who said officers were protecting the community only to be "let down" by "soft" sentences.
Mr Caruana took particular aim at Justice Michael Elkaim's decision to give an intensive correction order, rather full-time imprisonment, to a drug-affected teenager who drove "stupidly and dangerously" across Canberra for two days before ramming a police car.
"At what stage does the risk to the community become important?" he asked.
"Throughout all the commentary about recidivism offending, it always comes back to the police to address the matter.
"At what stage will responsibility be put on the judiciary? Who makes the judiciary responsible for their decisions?"
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury responded by rejecting calls for "a wholesale review" of sentencing in the ACT, saying there was insufficient evidence to warrant one.
Before meeting with the grieving families of three blameless young people killed in crashes on Canberra's roads, Mr Rattenbury insisted intensive correction orders were not "soft".
That sentiment was echoed by Chief Justice McCallum in court on Friday.
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