State Government persists with damaging and wasteful non-solution as $450m+ goes on prisons in Vic State Budget

May 06, 2014 |

The Victorian Government’s State Budget announcement of more than $450m ($454.3m) for nearly 900 new prison beds (871) and work towards a further 300 beds adds to previous record prison spending and is a damaging and wasteful non-solution that will not reduce crime or make the community safer, according to Smart Justice, a coalition of 29 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Together, spending on prison beds and new parole measures ($84m) approached $540m, excluding significant additional expenditure on police, protective services officers and Tasers ($77m).

“We welcome the parole spending that will boost assessment, monitoring and supervision of parolees, and the modest but welcome investment in youth diversion ($17m), but the overwhelming weight of spending remains on imprisonment,” said Smart Justice spokesperson, Michelle McDonnell today.

“With 1200 prison beds opened since 2011 and 2900 now in the pipeline, continued massive spending on prisons needs intensive scrutiny not just in the heat of Budget Day, but through to the November State election.

“The government cannot continue to say that it ‘makes no apologies’ for being tough-on-crime when the evidence shows its spending is ineffective and diverts vital funds away from programs that tackle the causes of crime, pro-mote rehabilitation and reduce reoffending at a far smaller cost.”

She said recent US research showed that it was possible to reduce imprisonment and crime rates at the same time, with the States that had made the biggest reductions in prison spending achieving the greatest reductions in crime. While the US had much higher incarceration rates, Ms McDonnell said the research showed many US States had recognised the catastrophe of endless prison expansion and had turned back from a failed path.

“The Victorian Government has had that opportunity at a much earlier stage, yet persists in a prison-based response to crime contrary to what is needed to ensure community safety.

“We need the government to make its case on the evidence, not on political rhetoric that relies on ignoring and failing to communicate the research about what works to reduce crime and make the community safer,” Ms McDonnell said.

She said the government should reveal the total cost of building and operating a “dangerously ballooning” prison system that had seen an increase in the prison population of more than 50 per cent over the last nine years. Victoria’s prison population was now moving beyond 6,000 prisoners, and was now projected to reach 9,000.

“Against that disturbing projection, we can assess the government’s commitment to more effective, alternative solutions by comparing prison spending to the completely inadequate spending on specific crime prevention measures, including youth and adult diversion programs, rehabilitation and post-release support, and programs to protect women and children from family violence assaults and murders,” Ms McDonnell said.

“There’s a tragic opportunity cost to massive spending on prisons that don’t work,” Ms McDonnell said.

She also expressed concern that the new expenditure would continue the risky practice of double-bunking prisoners and incarcerating them in shipping containers.

States cut both crime and imprisonment”, Pew Center for the States, Public Safety Performance Project

For fact sheets on evidence-based justice policy, visit www.smartjustice.org.au.

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