The State Government has moved to reduce the number of offenders being sent to gaol for short periods.
Attorney General Joe Berinson said prison sentences of six months or less were widely regarded as having no or extremely limited benefit in terms of either crime prevention or rehabilitation.
Introducing legislation today to amend the Criminal Code, he said the most significant effect of such sentences was often negative, in that they led to the reinforcement or `professionalisation' of criminal careers.
Over 70 per cent of prisoners received into Western Australian gaols have sentences of six months or less, making up about 15 per cent of prisoners at any one time.
The legislation would require the courts not to impose custodial sentences of six months or less unless it were shown there were no other means to properly deal with the case.
In such cases, the court would have to provide specific reasons in writing as to why imprisonment was the only appropriate penalty.
Mr Berinson said exceptions would apply in cases involving aggregate sentences of more than six months, and for offences under the Prisons Act committed by prisoners.
He said the change was in line with recommendations in a report compiled after an official visit to Europe last year to examine criminal justice policies.
The Criminal Law Amendment Bill (no. 2) also makes it a serious offence for people to deliberately spread AIDS and other infectious diseases, with penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment.
Mr Berinson said that even in cases where the disease was not contracted by the intended victim, the offence of intending to cause grievous bodily harm would attract a penalty of up to 20 years' imprisonment.
This recognised that the deliberate transfer of AIDS was uncertain and might not come to light for many months or even years. Even then, detection might only indicate exposure to the virus, and not necessarily that a person had succumbed to the disease itself.
The offence of causing or intending to cause grievious bodily harm and its associated 20-year penalty would not be limited to AIDS, but would also apply to diseases capable of causing permanent injury.
Examples could include deliberately putting serious disease-carrying bacteria into dams, or using syringes loaded with infected blood as weapons.
A special provision had been included to ensure the legislation did not apply to legitimate inoculation procedures.
A lesser offence involving bodily harm, with a penalty of up to five-years gaol, would apply where an unlawful act was committed which transmitted or was intended to transmit a less serious disease.
The legislation would also repeal outmoded sections of the Criminal Code by abolishing the punishments of whipping and hard labour, which had long since fallen into disuse.