May 24, 2019 |
The Federation of Community Legal Centres is extremely concerned with today’s announcement from the Andrews Labor Government that they will spend $1.8 billion of public money to expand Victoria’s prisons.
The expansion is largely due to the perverse impact of the Government’s own bail laws, which has seen women become the fastest growing population in Victoria’s prisons.
The Government’s own figures show that in April 2019 just under half of all women and about a third of all men in jail had not been sentenced for any crime.
Drug use and theft can see women ripped away from their family and children, only to be held on remand and released within weeks because their offending was so low level they should never have been in prison in the first place.
“It is disappointing to see this extraordinary amount of money being spent on locking up people who need help with drug, alcohol and mental health issues, instead of investing in the critical support they need,” said Federation of Community Legal Centres CEO, Serina McDuff.
“Many women in prison are themselves victims of crime. When a woman has turned to drug use to self-medicate for family or sexual violence, she should not end up in prison, she should get the counselling and drug rehabilitation support that she needs.
There is something deeply wrong with the justice system when our prisons are filled with people who need help,” said Ms McDuff.
The Government has also announced $42.7m for support programs for people in or leaving prison.
“This so pales in comparison to the prison expansion of $1.8 billion, it boggles the mind. Why isn’t this money being spent on preventing people entering prison in the first place? This sort of funding could transform our communities.”
“Imagine the support people with mental illness or women experiencing violence could receive. Imagine the homes that could be built. It is such a missed opportunity,” said Ms McDuff.
The prison funding is equivalent to redeveloping 2, 200 public homes or building 10 new hospitals.
The Government should also be making changes to the law to stop people being sent to prison unjustly.
“Even without spending a cent, there is so much the Government can do. Priorities should include changing legislation so that low level, non-violent offending does not result in prison, abolish public drunkenness and other public order offences, as well as expand diversion,” said Ms McDuff.
Diversion is proven to prevent people going back to prison, helping them connect to the support they need and get on with their lives.
Current diversion programs are successful and have seen the reoffending rate drop to about 10 per cent. By contrast, without intervention 50 per cent of people in prison will end up returning. 
CEO of Federation of Community Legal Centres
03 9652 1501
0451 411 479
 Department of Justice and Community Safety, Monthly Time Series Prisoner Information Data: https://www.corrections.vic.gov.au/publications-manuals-and-statistics/monthly-time-series-prisoner-and-offender-data
 Department of Justice and Community Safety: “Women in the Victorian Prison System”, January 2019
 KPMG, Evaluation Report on Victoria Police ROPES program (2010).