Ombudsman report shows urgent need for criminal justice rethink

September 17, 2015 |

A Victorian Ombudsman report released today shows an urgent need to rethink criminal justice in Victoria, according to the Smart Justice Project of the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

‘The first requirement of any criminal justice policy is that it actually works. This report shows that Victoria’s justice system is over-reliant on prisons that come at a crippling human and economic cost, and are failing to boost community safety,’ said Michelle McDonnell, Senior Policy Adviser for Smart Justice, today.

The report, Investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria, highlights a system where measures to prevent crime and support the rehabilitation of prisoners have taken a back seat to a prison focus, yet the report details that recidivism has actually climbed with prison numbers, and pressure on the prison system is hindering access to programs that reduce the risk of reoffending.

‘This welcome report takes the focus back to where it should have been all along – the evidence of what works. The Victorian Ombudsman has vindicated the evidence-based approaches that we have been advocating for the last four years amid strident calls for failed policies that claim to be ‘tough-on-crime’ but actually endanger our community,’ McDonnell said.

Ms McDonnell highlighted the report’s first recommendation calling for a whole-of-government approach to reduce offending and recidivism, and particularly the ‘creation and publication of targets and performance measures’ that she said were vital to public debate and the evaluation of effectiveness of criminal justice policies.

‘Victoria spends more than $1billion a year on its prison system, and our rate of recidivism is rising faster than any other jurisdiction in Australia – that’s a clear signal that we need to change our focus to prevention and rehabilitation, with prison reserved for cases where there is a clear threat to community safety,’ Ms McDonnell said.

She welcomed the Ombudsman’s report, noting there was far greater scope for the Victorian Government to release data on how the system was working, including its impact on vulnerable groups such as women, Aboriginal people, and people with cognitive impairments.

‘As a community, we should not be dependent on the Ombudsman initiating an investigation to get information on how the system is working.

‘This report urges a rethink by the Victorian Government to examine how the billions of dollars wasted on prison expansion could be turned to investing in measures that prevent crime in the first place,’ Ms McDonnell concluded.

‘The government’s in-principle support for the recommendations is positive, but action and resourcing for effective alternatives is overdue,’ McDonnell concluded.

For more information about the Smart Justice project, visit www.smartjustice.org.au