To fix Victoria’s broken prison system, heed the evidence

January 30, 2015 |

Findings presented in a Report on Government Services (ROGS) released by the Productivity Commission today support calls for an evidence-based approach to justice policy in Victoria rather than a continuation of failed tough-on-crime policies implemented by the former Napthine Government, says Smart Justice, a coalition of 31 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

“The prison population continues to climb, recidivism is worsening (39.5 per cent), prison assaults have increased, and there’s a growing over-representation of Indigenous people in our prisons. These alarming outcomes have come at a cost of billions and without any discernible benefit to the overall crime rate, which is increasing,” said Michelle McDonnell, Senior Policy Adviser for the Smart Justice project, today.

“The changes implemented by the previous government were characterised by former corrections minister Edward O’Donohue as ‘reforms’ demanded by the public and delivered by the government. We say it’s not reform if the evidence shows it doesn’t work, and the new government now has a choice between failed business as usual and smarter approaches driven by the evidence.

“The new government has acknowledged the crippling cost to the budget of the prison system, and must now examine the full range of factors driving the prison population and the ineffectiveness of the current system in actually reducing crime and making us safer,” McDonnell said.

A recent discussion paper on rehabilitation released by the Victorian Ombudsman shows the number of prisoners on straight release – without the conditions, supervision and support of parole – has more than doubled.

“The government must act to strengthen the capacity of parole to ensure the safe re-entry of offenders into the community. That means offenders must have access to appropriate programs in prison, and are not unnecessarily denied parole because programs aren’t available.

“However, there also needs to be an emphasis on preventing crime in the first place, on diverting offenders from the prison system where that’s consistent with community safety, and on closely examining sentencing, parole and bail laws that are contributing to the unsustainable rise in Victoria’s prison population,” McDonnell said.

She said a Smart Justice analysis of a decade of ROGS data shows a pronounced upward trend in recidivism that is continued with the latest report.

“Evidence must guide policy and there needs to be greater transparency and more frequent publication of data about the performance of Victoria’s prison system.

“The reality is that Victoria’s failed ‘tough-on-crime’ approach has really been tough on the Victorian Budget, tough on the vital community services that as a result have gone unfunded, and tough on community safety. That has to change,” Ms McDonnell concluded.