Detained and Released: Immigration Crimes Bear No Jail Time Under Emergency Laws

MELBOURNE, Australia – Two dozen individuals who were released from immigration detention have been charged with crimes, although none of them have been imprisoned under emergency laws. In December 2023, the government rushed through powers that allowed the responsible minister to apply for community safety or supervision orders. These orders granted the authorities the ability to lock up or closely monitor individuals who had been released from detention. However, as of January 31, no applications had been made to enforce these powers.

The release of 149 people was triggered by a High Court ruling on indefinite immigration detention. Among these individuals, seven had committed murder or attempted murder, 37 had engaged in sexual-based offending, including child sex offenses, 72 were involved in assault and violent crimes such as kidnapping and armed robbery, 16 had a history of domestic violence and stalking, and 13 were charged with serious drug offenses. The Department released figures on Monday showing that fewer than five individuals were involved in people smuggling or were connected to low-level or no criminal offenses.

The legislation also imposed broader supervision measures that carried prison sentences for breaches. As of January 31, 113 released detainees were being monitored with ankle bracelets. Despite the availability of these measures, no individuals have been re-detained in immigration custody due to the lack of prospects for their resettlement in another country. Australia’s attempts to secure resettlement in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada have all been unsuccessful, with ongoing discussions with the United States.

Under the new laws, six individuals have been re-arrested and charged for breaching visa conditions, while an additional 18 have faced charges by state and territory police forces for other offenses as of February 1. A parliamentary committee, chaired by Labor MP Josh Burns, criticized the preventive detention laws as a potential violation of human rights. One concern raised during the inquiry was whether the imposition of ankle bracelets exceeded the legal authority of the minister, as it could be seen as constituting criminal punishment. The court ruled that only the judiciary had the power to impose criminal punishments, and not the government.

In its review of the laws, the committee stated that the minister’s response did not sufficiently address all of their human rights concerns. More than $13 million has been spent managing the caseload resulting from the High Court decision as of December 31.