Community legal centres and women’s advocates have labelled nearly $190 million dollars for more prison beds as misguided in light of figures revealing fewer women being incarcerated and evidence pointing to early intervention and redirection programs as better options for the community.
The Federation of Community Legal Centres and advocacy group, Smart Justice for Women, have called for investment in support services, legal assistance, housing, education, jobs and rehabilitation programs. Early intervention measures have been shown to lead to the best crime prevention and community safety outcomes.
Advocates point to the decreasing number of women in the Victorian prison system, around 450 at the moment and down significantly since before the pandemic, as further evidence for a different approach. Changes to bail outcomes during the pandemic have had a positive community impact.
Federation of CLCs CEO, Serina McDuff, said the Victorian Government should learn from this experience and not return to the ineffective policies of the past.
“The majority of women in prison have committed low level offending, drug offences or breached bail conditions. Women in prison are usually non-violent offenders and they don’t pose a significant risk to community safety. This investment is misguided and won’t help women or keep the community safe.”
“COVID-19 has demonstrated that the Victorian Government will put resources where they are needed. It is time to dedicate significant resources to keeping women out of the prison system and invest in what works - housing, community-based health services, family violence services and legal assistance.”
Co-Chair of Smart Justice for Women and CEO of the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women, Elena Pappas, said women in prisons are nearly always victims of violence and that the goal should be rehabilitation.
“Studies have shown that up to 90% of women in Victorian prisons are victim-survivors of family violence, sexual assault and/or historical abuse. Corrections Victoria’s own data from 2018 showed that 65% of women in the system had experienced violence in the past decade.”
“Women in prison are some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged people, including victim-survivors of family violence and sexual abuse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people experiencing mental health issues, homelessness or substance addiction, and people with a disability."
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are more likely to churn through the prison system on shorter sentences or remand and to experience multiple prison sentences. They already make up more than 13% of the prison population. With ongoing major concerns around cultural safety and deaths in custody there is a dire need for investment in culturally safe supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the community. To now see this money being instead spent on expanding the prison system is extremely frustrating."