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Jail 'failing society'

Herald Sun 23 November 2020  Rebekah Cavanagh

Push for Justice Reform


TWO of the state’s most experienced judicial officers have called for justice reform, saying Victoria’s “tough on crime” approach in jailing crooks is failing.

Former chief magistrate turned coroner Ian Gray and retired Supreme Court judge Kevin Bell QC are united in their push for the Andrews government to “move away from its excessive use of imprisonment”.

Speaking out in an opinion piece in Monday’s Herald Sun, the duo said: “Too much jailing is failing the Victorian community — it’s the right time for a policy reset.”

As Victoria’s incarceration rates hit record levels, they urged politicians to act on the evidence that shows imprisonment leads to worse outcomes for society.

The focus, they say, should be on rehabilitation.

“We have had an obsession with being seen to be tough on crime,” they said.

“Victoria spends more than $130,000 a year for each prisoner. But we are not spending nearly enough on early intervention, and on programs that address the underlying causes of crime.”

Instead of injecting more than $1.8bn into expanding prisons, as Premier Dan Andrews announced last year, Mr Gray and Mr Bell said politicians should look to their counterparts in the US and Canada, where a focus on reducing reoffending rates had seen some prisons close, saving the taxpayer purse.

“This isn’t about being soft on crime,” they said. “It’s about a clear-eyed examination of the evidence, and moving past emotive and populist rhetoric to focus on solutions that actually work — improving lives and making everyone safer.”

They said statistics show four out of 10 prisoners return to jail within two years of release, with many entrenched in relentless cycles of unemployment, homelessness and offending.

“Recidivism rates show … if you lock up low-level offenders, it doesn’t do a great job of rehabilitating them but can actually put them on a path to more serious offending,” they said.

Mr Gray and Mr Bell acknowledged prison was the answer for the most violent and serious offenders.

“But we need to consider who we’re locking up with them,” they said.

“Prisons are overflowing with too many people jailed for minor offences, and offenders with a history of mental illness or cognitive disability.”

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