Smart Justice for Women

About Smart Justice for Women                             

Smart Justice for Women is a coalition of nearly 40 member organisations as well as leading academics and experts committed to ending the criminalisation of women in Victoria. Smart Justice for Women is coordinated by the Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria and the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women. 

Smart Justice for Women includes members from the community legal sector, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, peak bodies, community services sector, legal sector, academia, and other organisations. 

The role of Smart Justice for Women is to end the criminalisation of women in Victoria by: 

  • Advocating for law reform, policy change and structural change. 
  • Influencing community attitudes and promoting social change. 
  • Providing leadership and expertise on issues impacting women’s criminalisation. 
  • Acting as a consultative body on issues impacting women’s criminalisation. 
  • Promoting information, knowledge, evidence and resource sharing between members. 
  • Fostering a collaborative approach to service delivery within the legal assistance sector and across a range of sectors.

 

Smart Justice for Women’s purpose and priorities 

There is an urgent need to stem the growth of women in prison in Victoria. The number of women in Victorian prisons has more than doubled over the past decade, with the number of Aboriginal women in prison more than tripling. 

There is a clear link between disadvantage and women’s involvement with the criminal legal system. Most women who are drawn into the criminal legal system have experienced trauma, including childhood and adult victimisation, involvement with child protection, poverty, sexual abuse, and family violence. Without appropriate supports, these experiences can drive women to engage in behaviours that lead to them becoming criminalised, with damaging ripple effects to their families and communities.  

Smart Justice for Women has identified key reforms required to reverse the increasing incarceration and criminalisation of women, prioritising: 

  • Self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in implementing criminal legal reform.
  • The full implementation of Poccum’s Law for bail reform. 
  • Criminal legal system reform that recognises and responds to the unique needs of women. 
  • Urgent investment in safe and affordable housing options for women. 
  • Adequate resources for culturally safe and trauma-informed health and social services to support women at the first risk of criminalisation. 

Read more in Smart Justice for Women's Policy Platform 2023-24: Ending the criminalisation of women in Victoria, available here. 

Launch of the Policy Platform

The launch of the Smart Justice for Women Policy Platform 2023-2024: Ending the Criminalisation of Women in Victoria took place on 7 December 2023 at Gadens Law Firm in Melbourne 

Just under 100 people attended from diverse sectors and organisations, including the legal assistance sector, community organisations, courts, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, academia, and government. A number of current and former parliamentarians also attended the launch.   

The launch hosted a fantastic panel of experts, including:  

  • Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission  
  • Fiona Patten, Leader of the Reason Party 
  • Lyanne Morel, Lived Experience and Systemic Reform Advocate at Taskforce  
  • Tania Farha, CEO at Safe and Equal  
  • Nina, Family Violence Justice Project Coordinator at Flat Out  
  • Elena Pappas, Co-Chair of Smart Justice for Women and CEO at Law and Advocacy Centre for Women 

 

The panel explored the broad and complex issues leading to women’s criminalisation, the experience of Aboriginal women in the criminal legal system, the intersection between family violence and criminalisation and the devastating impacts on children and families when mothers are incarcerated.  

A recording of the launch is available here.

Reforming unfair bail laws

The increase in the number of women being held in Victorian prisons has been largely driven by an increase in the number of people in prison who are not sentenced. This is largely attributable to 2018 changes to the Bail Act 1977 (Vic) (the Bail Act). Women are increasingly being held in custody not because they pose a risk to the community, but because the circumstances that lead to their offending – such as poverty, homelessness, drug use, and experiences of family violence – currently make them ineligible for bail.  

The devastating and disproportionate impacts of the above bail provisions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were highlighted in the findings of Coroner McGregor in the inquest into the passing of proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson, who died in custody while on remand for alleged offences related to shoplifting. In his findings, the Coroner found Victoria’s bail regime to be incompatible with the Victorian Human Rights Charter, and called the 2018 bail reforms a ‘complete and unmitigated disaster.’ 

We acknowledge that the Victorian Government has taken some steps to reforming the Bail Act, and welcome the positive measures introduced in the Bail Amendment Act 2023 (Bail Bill) which are now in force. However, the recent reforms do not go far enough to reduce the exponential rise in women’s incarceration rates and to address Coroner McGregor’s key recommendations.   

Smart Justice for Women stands with Veronica Nelson’s family and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service in calling for full implementation of Poccum’s Law: 

  • Remove of the presumption against bail in its entirety. 
  • Introduce of a single test for accessing bail which provides that bail be granted unless the prosecution shows that there is:  
    • a specific and immediate risk to the safety of another person;  
    • a serious risk of interfering with a witness; or  
    • a demonstrable risk that the person will flee the jurisdiction. 
  • Prohibit remand of someone who is unlikely to receive a custodial sentence. 
  • Remove all bail offences. 

Smart Justice for Women calls on the Government to act urgently in implementing these reforms.  

Smart Justice for Women held an event during the 2023 Victorian Law Week outlining the bail laws and exploring their harmful impacts on women. A recording is available here.

Addressing the impacts of parental incarceration on children and families

Smart Justice for Women is calling for urgent action on the recommendations from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Children Affected by Parental Incarceration that provide a pathway towards reducing the harmful impacts of parental incarceration on children and families. 

Drawing on the expertise of the Coalition, many of whom work closely with families of incarcerated women, Smart Justice for Women has written to key ministers setting out those recommendations that must be implemented as a matter of priority. 

Smart Justice for Women’s Victorian Election Platform 2022 

In the lead up to the November 2022 Victorian Election, Smart Justice for Women called on Victoria’s political leaders to reverse the increasing incarceration and criminalisation of women through a two-pronged approach. 

  1. Reduce harm and further entrenchment in the criminal legal system by reforming laws and practices that unfairly criminalise and incarcerate women. As a matter of priority, SJFW is calling for urgent reforms to bail laws, which will have an immediate impact on the number of women in prisons. 
  2. Prevent women from becoming criminalised in the first place by improving their overall wellbeing through increased investment in prevention and support services, including urgent investment in safe and affordable housing options for women. 

Read the 2022 Victorian Election platform here. 

Contact

If you would like to know more about the coalition or have a media enquiry, please email Smart Justice for Women Co-Chair Sarah Lefevre at [email protected].

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