By Christine Bond, Louise Porter, Margo van Felius and Tiahna Mulholland*

This report, commissioned by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, presents an overview of the literature that addresses two topics. Topic 1 analyses evidence around the causes, frequency and seriousness of assaults on public officers; and topic 2 examines evidence on the impact of the offence, penalty and sentencing provisions to address these assaults.

Topic 1: Literature from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada suggest that assaults may be lowest among firefighters, and highest in the health and welfare sectors. Although limited, the evidence suggests that the likelihood of an assault is associated with less experience on the job; perpetrator substance use; perpetrator mental health; direct contact with the public; current or past history of violent behaviour; as well as operational workplace characteristics (which vary depending on the sector).

Topic 2: Evidence of the effectiveness of sentencing orders for this type of offence was non-existent. Research on the impact of prison sentences and mandatory sentencing schemes suggest that, to date, there is no robust evidence that these types of sentences deter individuals from further assaults. Penalty enhancements or aggravated offences clearly have a role in denouncing the behaviour, and clearly signalling that it is unacceptable. Nevertheless, current evidence suggests that well-targeted interventions may achieve more in terms of reducing the incidence of assaults against public officers. More work is needed to better identify the types of interventions that will be most successful in minimising assaults. We should expect that these interventions may vary by location and sector.

A copy of the full report can be accessed here.

*Tiahna Mulholland is a PhD Candidate in the Griffith Criminology Institute researching predictors of right-wing extremism in Australia