Productivity Commission report shows Victoria’s massive prison spending just doesn’t add up

January 30, 2014 |

The latest Productivity Commission Report on Government Services confirms that Victoria’s massive prison invest-ment just doesn’t add up, according to Smart Justice, a coalition of 29 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

“On any level – community safety, economic cost, and social impact – Victoria’s heavy investment in expensive and ineffective prisons isn’t justified. In fact the evidence tells us that we need to urgently expand alternatives to prison rather than endlessly expand prison capacity,” said Smart Justice spokesperson, Michelle McDonnell, today.

As the Victorian Government’s prison spending increased by $108 million from 2008–09 levels to $625 million in 2012–13, recidivism is again on the rise at 36.8 per cent, up from a low of 33.7 per cent in 2009–10 on previous Productivity Commission figures.

The reported 12 per cent rise in prisoner numbers in three years is part of a broader and more substantial rise of nearly 50 per cent over the last decade, which is starkly at odds with Victoria’s relatively stable crime rate over the same period. The Government’s current plans will see prisoner numbers double again in the near future, with 2,500 beds in the pipeline.

New research from the United States shows that many states are managing to both reduce prison expenditure and reduce their crime rate. United States imprisonment rates are significantly higher than in Australia, but the research shows a country much further along the road to failed law-and-order ‘solutions’ seeing a bleak future and turning back. We have the opportunity to learn that lesson at a much earlier stage, and we can save money and have a safer community as a result,’ Ms McDonnell said.

She said there were significant opportunities to increase diversion from prison without compromising community safety, as well as strengthening rehabilitation for prisoners, and offering better support on their release to minimise reoffending.

“These latest figures once again highlight the need for strong, effective action to make our community safer, not simplistic, law and order policies and rhetoric,” Ms McDonnell said.

The Productivity Commission report follows a media report in November last year revealing an emergency budget allocation for increased prison capacity. The report was sparked by Victorian Government statements including a sudden, unexplained increase in new prison beds “in the pipeline”.

“Prison spending is an area where the public interest demands absolute transparency,” Ms McDonnell concluded.

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