It’s time for reform of Victoria’s criminal justice system
The March release of the Justice Reform Initiative’s Victorian State of Incarceration Report paints a harrowing picture of the problems facing our criminal justice system.
The Victorian adult prison population now has grown by over 32 per cent in the last decade, and we are now spending a billion dollars a year keeping Victorians locked up, an increase of 96 per cent over the same period.
It shows that something is deeply wrong with the way the Victorian Labor Government is overseeing our prison and rehabilitation systems.
In my inaugural speech I spoke about the need for us as Victorians to appeal to our better selves in dealing with the crisis of incarceration in our State, and the power of the value of redemption.
I believe Victorians are ready to appeal the human good in people and begin exploring better ways to combat the root causes of crime. The criminal justice system in our state does not differentiate between those that we are afraid of and those that we are just mad at, and our lack of nuance does both those we lock up, and our community a great disservice.
That is why under the leadership of John Pesutto, the Victorian Liberals have appointed this state’s first ever Shadow Minister for Criminal Justice Reform in Brad Battin. It is time for new solutions. We cannot in good conscience spend yet another $798 million to increase state prison capacity, which appears to be the only solution on offer from Labor.
We must prioritise community safety, but that does not mean we cannot find alternative punishments for people who should not be in prison. For non-violent offenders, such as low-level drug possession.
I believe Victorians would rather spend a small amount at the start of someone’s interaction with the justice system on programs of rehabilitation than spend $149,113 a year, every year, to keep them in prison. This is not only makes economic sense, but is clearly a better outcome for society.
Current policy continues to lead to circumstances where many who are incarcerated cannot find a job once they leave prison, and end up back there.
The report found that 53.1 per cent of people in Victorian prisons have been there before. This means the government spends $1.5 million per day on prisoners who have been incarcerated before. This recidivism disproportionately affects already vulnerable communities like First Nations people.
I firmly believe there are good human qualities to every Victorian, even those that have followed the wrong path at times. We should seek out the good in our fellow Victorians and always find a pathway to redemption.
We can and must do better.•