Budget needs greater crime prevention focus

April 27, 2016 |

Substantial law and order spending outlined in today’s State Budget continues to focus too heavily on addressing the consequences of crime, rather than tackling the causes to stop it in the first place, according to Smart Justice, a coalition of 34 community organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

‘A $596 million law and order package emphasising increased police numbers comes amid continued heavy spending on Victoria’s prisons, with more than $1billion spent annually just to contain an excessive prison population. The emphasis on prisons has so far delivered little clear benefit, with recidivism levels still over 40 per cent in the two years following release,’ said Michelle McDonnell, senior policy adviser for Smart Justice with the Federation of Community Legal Centres, today.

‘The one thing we should expect from criminal justice spending is that it should actually be effective in making the community safer. Imprisoning more people may satisfy populist calls for punishment, but it’s taking money away from measures that could hold offenders to account and tackle the causes of crime that are both cheaper and more effective in making us safer.

‘We do need to ensure that the community is protected from the worst offenders who have not been rehabilitated, but we need to be careful that measures to address this very small group are not mainstreamed to the detriment of realistic prospects of rehabilitation for the broader prison population,’ McDonnell said.

‘Some of this spending is welcome, including increased funding for the management of community corrections orders. Many police stations do need refurbishment that will make police cells safer and hopefully reduce the risk of deaths in custody; police do need better support to respond quickly and effectively to family violence; and we do need to ensure better treatment for mental illness within the prison system – but if we look at the bulk of this package, it’s geared to reacting after crime has occurred, not acting before it has happened.’

Ms McDonnell said that early intervention and prevention programs, diversion, prison rehabilitation programs, and post-release support and supervision were better ways to tackle crime than expanding the police force to detect crime that has already happened and then increasing prison capacity to contain offenders at massive expense for little return for public safety.

‘With its work on drug and Koori courts and the Statewide Youth Diversion Program, and its recognition that money spent on prisons is money not spent on schools, TAFEs and hospitals, the Victorian Government is breaking away from the baseless tough-on-crime rhetoric of the former Napthine Government, but it needs to be vigilant not to backslide – especially when the evidence shows that for most offenders, an over-reliance on prison further criminalises them and actually makes us less safe,’ Ms McDonnell concluded.