Prison system remains costly and pressured, but balance tilts towards reducing reoffending and boosting safety

May 05, 2015 |

The State Budget has revealed that the cost of running Victoria’s pressured and crowded prison system is set to top $1 billion a year excluding construction costs, as the recidivism rate is predicted to climb to an alarming 45 per cent in 2015.

Prison operating costs have increased by 44 per cent in just two years. However, Budget measures to support community corrections approaches and the rehabilitation of prisoners have begun to tilt the balance towards reducing reoffending, according to the Smart Justice project of the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

‘It’s no coincidence that a prison system that now costs more than a billion dollars a year to run goes hand in hand with record recidivism, and these figures from the 2015/16 budget papers remind us we need to urgently change our approach to criminal justice policy in Victoria. However, there are some positive signs of budget investment to strengthen community alternatives to prison ($88.9m), boost the health of prisoners, and support their rehabilitation through education and other programs ($124.9m),’ said Liana Buchanan, executive officer of the Federation, today.

‘Where consistent with community safety, it makes clear sense to hold offenders to account through community corrections orders that reduce the influence of prison in further criminalising them and actually promoting their reoffending. For those offenders who need to go to prison to protect community safety, it is a relief to see investment in supporting health and rehabilitation rather than the more recent approach of endlessly building new prison capacity focused excessively on containment.

‘The government has stated a welcome intention to “stabilise” the corrections system. If this means giving greater priority to crime prevention, rehabilitation and post-release support than building new prison beds, that will be a positive step in the adoption of an evidence-based approach that will lead to a safer community,’ Buchanan said.

Ms Buchanan said that Victoria’s former tough-on-crime agenda was unsustainably expensive, ineffective and undermined community safety by promoting reoffending.

‘It is time for a new and more effective response to crime – a response that genuinely tackles the causes of crime and reverses the massive increase in the number of men and women in prison. We look forward to working with the government on evidence-based approaches that hold offenders to account but work to support community safety, rather than satisfy populist law-and-order politics that ultimately result in more victims,’ Ms Buchanan concluded.