Make communities safer by addressing the causes of crime
VCOSS welcomes the focus in the 2015-16 Victorian State Budget on reducing recidivism and investing in health, education and rehabilitation services and facilities in prisons. The budget contains positive initiatives that shift the balance away from funding rising prison costs, and move instead towards improving community corrections options, reducing reoffending and supporting prisoners to rehabilitate.
In future budgets, the state government can build on this budget’s focus on preventing reoffending and encouraging rehabilitation, by expanding investment in programs that steer people away from offending and address the underlying causes of crime. Victoria’s prisoners have typically experienced significant disadvantage. There are proven, cost-effective, efficient and sustainable alternatives to imprisoning more disadvantaged Victorians. These include key initiatives of investing in services that address underlying issues of mental health, unemployment, homelessness and drug use.
The 2015-16 state budget also fulfils the government’s election promise to assist Victorians facing disadvantage to access legal assistance, by providing additional funding to community legal centres. Vulnerable people are more likely to face legal issues in their lives than other people, and having access timely, low-cost access to legal assistance can prevent them experiencing costly legal delays and escalation of problems. This additional budget investment will go some way to assisting underfunded community legal centres struggling to meet demand for services.
Initiatives at a glance
- $63m over four years in recurrent funding and $26m over two years in capital funding to expand community corrections services – to respond to the rising number of people on community corrections orders, and to expand rehabilitation and reparation programs to stop people progressing to prison.
- $53.3m over four years in recurrent funding and $65.7m over three years in capital funding to expand the women’s prison system – including additional beds at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and Tarrengower Prison, upgrade of existing mental health and other facilities and continuation of vital mental health and sexual assault counselling services available to women in prison.
- $36.7m over four years in recurrent funding and an additional $88.2m over three years in capital funding for critical infrastructure and services in the men’s corrections system – this includes additional secure mental health beds at the Thomas Embling Hospital, expanded mental health services, and upgrades to medical and reception facilities.
- $1.2m over four years to continue the youth justice bail support program.
- $2m over two years for a community legal centre assistance fund-delivering on an election commitment to support community legal centres. An additional $1.2 million in 2015-16 was funded for family violence duty lawyers at community legal centres and $2.1 million for other unspecific family violence legal assistance.
- $4.6m over four years in recurrent funding and $10m over two years in capital funding for video conferencing in courts – to separate victims from the accused while giving evidence. This is particularly important to victims of family violence and sexual assault.
- $9.5m over four years to continue funding for the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) List – in the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria. The ARC List engages with people accused of crimes who are living with mental illness or cognitive impairment, to implement appropriate interventions to reduce their risk of further contact with the justice system.
- $400,000 in 2015-16 for JobWatch – to continue to provide free employment law services to Victorian workers.
- $400,000 for four years for the Law Handbook – to continue to be published by the Fitzroy Legal Service and to be made available free online.
Future policy directions
- The continued funding for young people’s bail support programs is welcome, but the state government can prevent more young people from being unnecessarily remanded by expanding this program in future budgets to all regions of Victoria, as highlighted in the VCOS S2015-16 State Budget Submission.
- The 2015-16 state budget papers show that the cost of running Victoria’s prisons is now exceeding $1 billion each year, and the rate of people reoffending within two years is expected to reach 45 per cent. This budget’s investment in shifting the balance away from prison operating costs, towards community corrections, reducing reoffending and rehabilitation of prisoners, is welcome. VCOSS looks forward to working with the state government to further expand rehabilitation programs and reduce the number of prisoners reoffending and returning to prison.
- The state government can build on its 2015-16 budget investment in community corrections, by expanding the points at which people can be diverted away from the prison system, including by enshrining diversion for young people in legislation, and investing in targeted diversion programs for vulnerable groups including young people and Aboriginal women.