Massive growth in prison spending shows Victorian Government values a flawed solution to crime over vital community services

November 18, 2014 |

Figures reported in The Age today show that prison spending has recorded the third highest level of growth of all spending under the Victorian Government over the last three years. Prisons spending has grown by nearly $200 million (32 per cent), compared to growth in secondary school spending (2 per cent), TAFE (2 per cent), hospital outpatients (1 per cent), and a massive decline in spending on public housing (49 per cent).

‘It’s clear prison spending diverts resources from vital community services that actually help to reduce crime and prevent reoffending,’ said Liana Buchanan, Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, today.

‘Such spending growth is even more concerning when prison operating costs alone are now approaching $1billion per year (2014–15 Budget figures) and will increase further given another 2,500 prison beds are in the pipeline, there is strong evidence of the ineffectiveness of prisons as a solution to crime, and when – as the current and former Auditors-General have this week pointed out – they currently lack the power to properly scrutinise private prison projects, such as the new 1000-bed Ravenhall private prison.

‘These figures tell the story of misplaced government priorities and a flawed approach to criminal justice policy that we say will undermine community safety and lead to more victims of crime,’ Ms Buchanan said.

A recent discussion paper on rehabilitation released by the Victorian Ombudsman shows that, compared to June 2009, the Victorian prison population is set to grow by 64.8 per cent by June 2015. At the same time, the number of prisoners released without the supervision, restrictions and rehabilitative support of parole has more than doubled in one year.

The Age figures tell a very sad story for community safety. Without parole, with poor options for training, with drastic reductions to public housing spending and without major investment in approaches that tackle the causes of crime, government is setting the conditions for increased crime and spiralling prison spending. This will reduce rather than enhance community safety,’ Buchanan said.

She renewed the call for policy responses that will reduce offending, spending to tackle the causes of crime, and an evidence-based debate on justice policy in the lead up to the 29 November State election.

Smart Justice is a coalition of 31 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.