Jump in prison beds “in the pipeline” sparks searching questions for Napthine Government

November 28, 2013 |

In the wake of criticism that the Victorian Government is suppressing vital public interest data on the State’s prison population, the figures it has publicly announced on prison beds “in the pipeline” have jumped dramatically without explanation between September and October 2013.

“The Government has given no explanation for the increase from 1270 beds “in the pipeline” reported in the media in early September, to the 2500 beds now announced.

“The latest increase compares to an election promise of 500 extra beds in addition to 434 beds already funded before the Coalition Government came to power in November 2010.

“The latest unexplained increase in extra beds will not make the community safer. The government should tell us where the beds will be, what they will cost to build and operate, and how many will be double-bunked in overcrowded conditions,” said Michelle McDonnell, Senior Policy Adviser with the Smart Justice project, today.

“The big increase is not accounted for by the recently doubled capacity of Ravenhall from 500 to 1000 beds, so we need to know what’s behind these figures so government policy receives the scrutiny it deserves,” she said.

Victoria’s prison population is currently rising by around 100 prisoners every month and in 2012–13, it grew by more than 750 people.

“That’s three-quarters of the expanded Ravenhall project in a single year, when Ravenhall is not scheduled for completion until 2017. The government’s criminal justice policy is clearly unsustainable,” McDonnell said.

“The solution to prison overcrowding doesn’t lie in playing ‘catch-up’ with a prison population fuelled by ineffective sentencing and parole reforms. We have to reduce the need for additional capacity through early intervention and prevention, alternatives to prison for low-risk offenders, improved rehabilitation and better assessment and supervision of people on parole,” she said.

Figures projected from 10 November public comments by corrections minister Edward O’Donohue suggest that under the Victorian Government’s policies this is unlikely to happen, with the prison population set to escalate even further.

After the recently reported 44 per cent growth in denial of parole in 2012–13 (425), the minister’s comments suggest a further increase of 109 per cent over 2013–14 (888). Based on the same comments, cancellations are also set to climb by a further 21 per cent (1128) after 2012–13 growth of 41 per cent (930).

“The 2013–14 projected figures show why our prisons are becoming increasingly pressured, and this is before we see the impact of reforms such as removal of suspended sentences from the Magistrates’ Court and baseline sentencing.

“A pressured prison system only serves to undermine rehabilitation and promote further crime when prisoners are ultimately released,” McDonnell said.

“In an expensive over-reach that will cost the community billions over the next decade, large numbers of low-risk offenders will be further criminalised, and we are concerned that this will be reflected in higher future crime rates and increased numbers of victims,” she concluded.

Smart Justice is a coalition of 29 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

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