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Whilst the Andrews government was elected on a progressive social agenda, it is disappointing that the Budget prioritises regressive funding for more prison beds.
Investing in prisons does not make the community safer or reduce crime. To achieve these ends it’s far more effective to address the underlying causes of crime by investing in communities and services, and to provide funding for prisoner health, education and rehabilitation services.
The budget blows almost $2 billion on prisons. For $2 billion we could build tens of thousands of social housing units to fight homelessness. Or we could give desperately-needed funding to frontline mental health services in advance of the Royal Commission.
A more positive move is funding for dedicated women’s programs and diversion and reintegration programs—the $42.7 million commitment is a step in the right direction. But the funding amounts provided are not sufficient to meet the needs of people caught up in the justice system, especially as the number of prisoners in Victoria continues to grow.
Law court upgrades in Bendigo and technology upgrades for courts across the state will assist courts to keep up with the huge demand on the system, but upgrades and efficiencies will not be enough to deal with a growing remand population problem.
Continued funding for the Family Drug Treatment Court in Broadmeadows will give more families the support they need to deal with addictions and reunite with their children. Continued funding for the Fast Track Remand Court and the Court Integrated Services Program pilot is welcome but does not go far enough.
Despite the $45.5 million over two years committed to ‘Youth justice reoffending reduction’, overall there is a $5.3 million reduction in funding for community based youth justice services in the 2019–20 Budget. This is in contrast to the $11.4 million increase of real expenditure for custodial services for youth justice.
It is time for a justice reset. Instead of spending money on prison beds for kids and adults, the Government urgently needs to boost investment in communities and initiatives to prevent crime.
Imagine the support people with mental illness or women experiencing violence could receive with the $1.8b in public money the Andrews Government is using to expand prisons. Imagine the homes that could be built. It is such a missed opportunity. #AusLaw #AusPol #SpringSt pic.twitter.com/4p1Cm8YiEs
— Federation of CLCs (@CommunityLawVic) May 29, 2019
Funding includes programs to reduce the incarceration of women, including programs for women with mental illness, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment. It will also go towards reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal women in the justice system.
Cost: $4.8m in 2019/20 ($20m/4 years)
Diversion and reintegration programs
Funding will go towards reducing the number of Victorians cycling in and out of prison, including through funding the Bail Access Program and Bail and Remand Courts, forensic drug and alcohol treatment in the community, Employment Pathway Brokers and bail support for young people.
Cost: $7.4m in 2019/20 ($22.7m/5 years)^
Youth justice reoffending reduction
Additional funding will be provided to support early intervention and diversion of young people from offending and reduce recidivism. The package includes funding for custodial and security staff. More funding for early intervention and diversion is good; however, it’s unclear what proportion of this package will be focussed on custodial and security staff rather than interventions for young people.
Cost: $29.9m in 2019/20 ($45.5m/2 years)
Law court upgrades
Funding will be provided for the Bendigo Law Courts Redevelopment, improving court access through additional audio-visual technology and safety upgrades to strengthen court safety.
Cost: $26.4m in 2019/20 ($168.5m/5 years)^
Family Drug Treatment Court
The Family Drug Treatment Court in Broadmeadows will continue to help parents reduce their alcohol and drug dependence and regain custody of their children from out-of-home care. This funding will provide support for up to 30 participants a year, promoting timely family reunifications for parents undertaking the program, improving outcomes for at-risk children, and reducing court and child protection involvement due to effective intervention.
Cost: $2m in 2019/20 ($8m/4 years)
Fast Track Remand Court
Funding will be provided to continue the Fast Track Remand Court in the Children’s Court as an ongoing program to reduce the time young people spend on remand awaiting trial.
Cost: $1.1m in 2019/20 ($3.8m/4 years)
Reducing reoffending and improving community safety
The Government will extend the Court Integrated Services Program to the County Court via an 18-month pilot. This investment will address criminal justice and prison system pressures by improving the ability of eligible accused persons to obtain bail and access services that reduce recidivism rates.
Cost: $4.1m in 2019/20 ($6m/2 years)
Prison system capacity
The Budget provides funding for increased capacity and infrastructure across the state’s prison system, including the expansion of the Chisholm Road Prison Project, and the construction of additional beds at Dame Phyllis Frost women’s prison.
Cost: $595.5m in 2019/20 ($1,838.7m/4 years)
A number of further strategies that were not included in the 2019/20 budget could bring significant benefits for Victorians facing disadvantage. VCOSS will be advocating for these initiatives over the coming year, in the lead up to the 2020/21 Victorian Budget.
Increase investment in legal assistance services
Community legal centres missed out on any additional funding in this budget. Timely and appropriate legal assistance helps people identify and resolve legal issues before they escalate. In future, the Victorian Government should also consider additional funding for community justice partnerships that help people get the support they need.
Improve transition supports for people leaving prison
Successful reintegration and rehabilitation is crucial to preventing people reoffending. Only limited transitional support is available to people leaving prison in Victoria, putting them at higher risk of homelessness, health crisis or reoffending.
Improve support for people with a disability in the justice system
There is not enough specialist disability support for people who come into contact with the justice system. Early identification of a person’s disability after justice system contact can ensure appropriate, timely treatment and support. Enhanced diversion and community-based options can also prevent unnecessary imprisonment.
^ These initiatives include new funding for 2018/19. This has been included in the total cost and years of funding where relevant.