Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 14 November 2023
A new report examining the over-reliance on incarceration in Victoria has highlighted a critical need for the Victorian Government to increase its funding for proven alternatives, finding that the growing outlay on prisons undermines positive policy reform that seeks to break the cycle of reoffending.
The report, released today by the Justice Reform Initiative, shows that the Victorian Government is continuing to spend disproportionately on prisons, despite strong recognition from both sides of politics that the current prison system is failing to deter crime or reduce reoffending.
Locking up both adults and children is now collectively costing the state more than $1.5 billion in annual net operating costs alone. Government expenditure on adult prisons has almost doubled over the past decade, increasing by 96%, and spending on imprisoning children has exploded by 351%.
The Justice Reform Initiative – an alliance which includes former parliamentarians from all sides of politics, as well as respected Aboriginal leaders, judicial figures, and community experts – is calling on the Victorian Government to establish a $300 million Breaking the Cycle Fund over four years to boost evidence-based community-led organisations and projects that are successfully breaking the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.
Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the evidence overwhelmingly showed that prisons fail to deter crime, reduce reoffending or make the community safe.
“The report shows very clearly that incarceration not only fails to reduce crime and address the drivers behind it, but increases the likelihood of reoffending,” Dr Sotiri said.
“In Victoria we have seen a concrete shift in the policy and legislative settings that have driven prison numbers up so dramatically, such as the recent decriminalisation of public drunkenness. While these are positive steps, there is much more to be done in bridging the significant funding gap and properly resourcing the proven alternatives outside of prison.”
Policy shifts away from incarceration have already resulted in significant outcomes, including a 37% drop in the number of children in prison in Victoria in the last five years.
Dr Sotiri said there was an opportunity for Victoria to lead the country in justice reform through greater investment in genuine alternatives, such as early prevention, diversion, First Nations led programs, and specialist courts that address disadvantage and provide pathways out of the justice system.
“There is clear political will and desire for evidence-based criminal justice reform in Victoria, including the welcome commitment to raise the age of criminal responsibility and change bail laws,” she said.
“But this needs to be followed through by appropriately resourcing the community-led alternatives that we know will work to reduce contact with the criminal justice system and break the cycle.
“Victoria has the opportunity to shift its funding approach so that all Victorian children and adults who are currently ‘managed’ in prisons, instead have the opportunity to access necessary support services in the community and across all points of the justice system.”
More than half of people in prison in Victoria have been there before, and 42% are being held on remand – and both those figures are growing.
The report highlights recent research and more than 100 examples of successful alternatives to prison including:
- Early intervention and prevention programs that reduce crime at a population level by between 5% and 31% and reduce offending among at-risk populations by 50%.
- First Nations place-based approaches which have seen significant reductions in crime, criminal justice system and youth justice contact and significant cost-savings.
- Bail support programs which slash reoffending (33%) and increase compliance with bail conditions (95%).
- Post release and diversionary community-led programs that show dramatic decreases in recidivism, such as support programs focusing on drug and alcohol dependency which reduced days in custody (65.8%), new custody episodes (62.6%), and proven offences (62.1%) within two years.
- Alternative policing and alternative first responder models that lessen the likelihood of arrest by 58%.
- Alternative and specialist court processes that reduce contact with the justice system.
- Alternative detention models such as rehabilitation and therapeutic models focussing on alcohol and other drug treatment which have low recidivism rates of just 2%.
Dr Sotiri said it was critical that the Victorian Government expands community-led options to tackle the underlying drivers of offending.
“Despite the strong evidence base, we have seen policy settings in Victoria that continue to prioritise investment in prisons ahead of community-led alternatives,” she said.
“This report shows there are community-led programs doing considerable work in breaking cycles of reincarceration in Victoria and across Australia, particularly First Nations-led organisations, which are achieving remarkable outcomes with very limited support and resourcing. But too many of these services are under-funded and unable to meet demand.
“Jailing is failing. Victoria must accelerate its shift towards an evidence-based criminal justice system by adequately funding the services and supports that actually work to break the cycle of incarceration.”
Among the report’s key findings:
- In Victoria in 2021/22, the total net operating cost of adult prisons was more than $1.328 billion – the second highest in Australia – with a further $222 million spent on children’s incarceration. This is a cost increase of 96% for adults and 351% for children.
- The real direct cost per adult prisoner per day is $409 or $149,113 per year; and $5,051 per day or $1.84 million per year for children.
- On an average night in 2022 there were 6,569 adults in prison in Victoria, an increase of 35% over the last decade.
- More than half of people in prison in Victoria have been in prison before. This population of people in prison with known prior imprisonment has grown by 50% over the last decade.
- In Victoria, 42% of the adult prison population are on remand – the second highest proportion nationally. The number of people on remand in Victoria has increased by 178% over the last decade in the highest increase in Australia.
- As many as 83% of children in prison in Victoria on an average night in 2022 were on remand.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be in prison than the non-Aboriginal adult population.
About the Justice Reform Initiative
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.
Our Victorian Patrons include:
- Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM KC, Professor, International Human Rights Law, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University. Former Commissioner of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
- The Honourable Jennifer Coate A, Former Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Commissioner, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Former President of the Children's Court of Victoria.
- Tim Costello AO, Former Mayor of St Kilda and CEO of World Vision, currently chair of the Community Council for Australia.
- Jon Faine AM, Broadcaster, commentator and lawyer.
- Petro Georgiou AO, Former Federal Member for Kooyong and Victorian Director of the Liberal Party, founding Director of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs.
- Louise Glanville,Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Legal Aid.
- The Honourable Rob Hulls, Former Deputy Premier and Attorney-General of Victoria, Director of the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University.
- Ian Gray AM, Former Chief Magistrate of Victoria and of the Northern Territory, and former County Court Judge and Victorian State Coroner.
- Andrew M Jackomos PSM, inaugural Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.
- The Honourable Jenny Macklin AC,Former Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform.
- The Honourable Patrick McNamara, Former Leader of the National party in Victoria, 24th Deputy Premier of Victoria .
- The Honourable Marcia Neave AO, Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
- The Honourable Alastair Nicholson AO KC RFD, Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, former Chair of the Parole Board of Victoria, former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Justice of the Federal Court of Australia.
- Peter Norden, AO FANZSOC,Honorary Fellow in Criminology at Deakin University, Fellow of the Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology, Founder and CEO of Jesuit Social Services, and Convenor of the Victorian Criminal Justice Coalition.
- Fiona Patten, Former Victorian member of parliament and Chair of the Victorian Parliament Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues overseeing the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System.
For more information and a copy of the report, 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.