A whole-of-government approach focused on reducing offending is a key recommendation of this report tabled today by the Victorian Ombudsman.
From the media release
Between 2009 and 2012, the Victorian prison population rose by just under 11%. In the subsequent three years, this growth has more than doubled to 25%. Over the past five years the recidivism rate has increased by 10.8% and the Corrections budget has increased by 31%. ‘Prison is a temporary solution – over 99% of prisoners will be released. Victoria needs to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration to improve public safety and get better value for the $1 billion annual spend, ’ says Ombudsman Deborah Glass. ‘ As prisons have become more crowded, the response has been to build more of them. While conditions inside prisons deteriorate under pressure, the rate of return is increasing. Building more prisons is demonstrably not making us safer as a community.
For such enormous public investment we should be seein g much better returns,’ said Ms Glass. ‘Long term solutions do not lie within the walls of our prisons or with a single government department. Victoria needs a whole - of - government approach to focus on the causes of crime rather than its consequences, ’ Ms Glass said. ‘If we continue in this way, current trends in both prisoner numb ers and cost mean it will not be long before we have to make hard decisions between prison beds or hospital beds, better schools or more security,’ Ms Glass said. Key among the report’s findings are that an increase in prisoner numbers sparked by reforms to sentencing, bail and parole arrangements is reducing access to programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
‘ The public expects violent offenders to serve time, but offenders must also be better coming out than when they went in if we’re going to reduce crim e. We also know that prison is the most expensive option and that there are alternative 1 approaches which work well in appropriate cases to change offender behaviour and reduce reoffending,’ Ms Glass said. Women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pr isoners were a particular focus in the report .
While these two groups represent a comparatively small percentage of the prison population, their numbers are growing at a greater rate than the overall average. ‘For women, s pecific services within prisons a re limited, so the solutions must lie in alternatives to incarceration and greater support , including in tr ansition and housing,’ Ms Glass said. Given the level of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their over - rep resentation in custody, the report finds there is a compelling case for more action to reduce both the number of prisoners in the first instance and the re - offending rate.
‘ As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has pointed out, it is shameful that we do better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison s than we do schools,’ noted Ms Glass. Re - offending rates are unlikely to improve without urgent action, with the investigation finding that recidivism rates are hi ghe st among people aged 18 to 25 . Over half of young prisoners ret urn to prison within two years, setting up a cycle of offending that can last a lifetime. ‘ Despite a demonstrable effect on recidivism rates, Victoria has only one dedicated youth unit, housin g 35 of the 751 young offenders in adult prisons. Interventions targeted towards young offenders – through diversion or within the prison system – provide a significant opportunity to break the cycle befor e it becomes entrenched,’ Ms Glass said