Spike in Victorian prisoner numbers demands rethink of justice policy

Thursday, 21 November 2013 – for immediate release

A spike in prisoner numbers in Victoria  revealed by national prison statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today shows that an urgent rethink of government justice policy is needed, says Smart Justice, a coalition of 29 organisations led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Over the last decade, Victoria’s prison population has grown by around 48 per cent. The latest figures show that Victoria has added 100 additional prisoners per month over the last four months.

“These figures are an alarming sentinel of the growth that is to come as the Victorian Government’s law-and-order measures start to really bite,” said Michelle McDonnell, senior policy adviser for Smart Justice, today.

“As expected, the State Government’s law-and-order agenda is driving a huge increase in prisoner numbers at great expense and for little impact in terms of reducing crime and boosting community safety,” Ms McDonnell said.

Ms McDonnell said a paramount concern for community safety required an evidence-based approach, rather than a simplistic appeal to crime and punishment.

“We need a rethink of justice policy that tackles the causes of crime, provides alternatives to prison for low-risk offenders, and supports rehabilitation and a safe return into the community when prisoners are released,” Ms McDonnell said.

She said that the Government had justified its claimed reforms by referencing community safety. However, the Government’s response would reduce community safety because it undermined rehabilitation for a broad group of low-risk offenders and would promote reoffending and increase the number of victims.

“We share the aim of protecting the community from high-risk offenders, but this must be achieved in a way that does not have a broader effect of increasing crime, and placing further stress on a prison system already struggling with the impact of these so-called reforms. We need to shift the focus away from demand for additional prison capacity to reducing the need for that capacity,” Ms McDonnell said.

She said that appropriate reforms of justice policy required transparency, including the ready availability of data on why people were going to prison, so early intervention and prevention measures could reduce the need for prison, which should be reserved for high-risk offenders who pose a genuine threat to community safety.

For interview:

Michelle McDonnell
0488 778 099
Senior Policy Adviser, Smart Justice Project
Federation of Community Legal Centres

For media information:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0488 773 535
Communications Manager
Federation of Community Legal Centres

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