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Media Release: Parliamentary inquiry finds jailing is failing – time for government to act

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 24 March 2022

The Justice Reform Initiative welcomes the findings of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry examining the criminal justice system, and calls on the Victorian government to commit to its recommendations which have potential to substantially improve community safety and transform our failing criminal justice system.

The committee’s report, released today, concludes that the existing punitive approach to criminal behaviour is “not reducing crime or improving community safety”, as shown by persistently high recidivism rates, and makes 100 recommendations for change at all levels of the criminal justice system.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Mindy Sotiri urged the Victorian government to endorse and act upon the recommendations as an important first step towards long-overdue reform.

“This report adds to decades of government reports, inquiries and commissions into the over-representation of disadvantaged groups (including significantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations) in our prisons and into the failures of imprisonment for these groups,” Dr Sotiri said.

“There is an overwhelming evidence base pointing towards what our policymakers need to do – what we are lacking is resourcing and political will.

“We support the vast majority of these recommendations, such as expanding access to diversion programs, developing restorative justice, and increased funding for services that assist people pre-release and exiting prison.

“However, there is much broader work to be done in addressing the real drivers of crime – the entrenched disadvantage within large parts of our society. This means properly resourcing the community to deliver supports that are genuinely going to allow people to build lives in the community instead of being 'managed' in justice system settings.

“We need to look beyond sentencing alternatives like home-detention that are part of the existing Correctional system, and instead draw on the evidence about 'what works' in community-led programs that address the real social and economic drivers of imprisonment – programs focused on housing, employment, mental health, disabilities, social connection, and culturally safe programs that are led by First Nations communities.

“Furthermore, while the inquiry recommended that Victoria raises the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old, we urge Daniel Andrews to join the ACT in committing to making this 14 years old.”

Dr Sotiri said she hoped the inquiry report, which was endorsed by members from both major parties, signalled an end to failed “tough on crime” policies which have seen the number of people in Victoria’s prisons soar by more than 50% since 2011.

“Recidivism rates show very clearly that prison doesn't work to reduce re-offending,” she said. “In Victoria, 44% of people will return to prison within two years following release.

“Jailing is failing - it fails to deter, it fails to rehabilitate and consequently fails to protect the community in any systemic sense. It is our sincere hope that all parties now come together to recognise the evidence and commit to much-needed reform, starting with many of the steps laid out here today.”

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 100 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.

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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.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746

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