Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 3 April 2023
The Justice Reform Initiative today said the NT Government’s bail reforms were a massive backward step in the effort to improve community safety in the Territory.
Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative Mindy Sotiri said the announcement by Chief Minister Natasha Fyles of new “backward bail laws”, which set the presumption against bail for certain offences, was disappointing and would only lead to more crime.
“There is no evidence that threatening harsher penalties has any impact when it comes to reducing crime. Restricting access to bail simply increases the numbers of people cycling through the prison system which we know does nothing to address the drivers of offending. In fact, it makes things worse,” Dr Sotiri said.
Patron of the Justice Reform Initiative Richard Coates said the Victorian Government was currently repealing the same type of laws which were actioned after the Bourke Street rampage because they had been so counter-productive.
“We only need to look at what transpired in Victoria, after similar moves to tighten bail laws were introduced in the wake of the Bourke Street Mall rampage that claimed the lives of six people,” Mr Coates said.
“With the benefit of hindsight, the new laws had significant unintended consequences, sending the prison population soaring unnecessarily and for no result.
“The main impact was to increase the number of women in prison, many charged with lower level offences, who had been unable to get a timely hearing or were struggling to meet conditions for bail release, such as stable housing.
“The Victorian Government is now under pressure to wind back these contentious – and costly – laws. We would have done well to learn from this in the Territory.”
Dr Sotiri said there is no reason to think that the Territory, with its stretched and failing incarceration regime, won’t suffer the same fate as Victoria.
“While tragic events can understandably prompt community outcry, and a call for consequences, we need to focus on the evidence about what actually works to build community safety,” Dr Sotiri said.
“Knee-jerk policy responses like this serve nobody. These changes will increase the numbers of people in prison who shouldn’t be there, and will increase the likelihood of further crime being committed.”
The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails.
The Initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities and people in the criminal justice system.
For more information and a list of patrons of the Justice Reform Initiative visit https://www.justicereforminitiative.org.au/.
Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746
The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.