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A smarter approach to corrections that tackles the causes of crime

Being tough on crime doesn’t equal being smart on crime.

Putting people in prison doesn’t solve crime, and it doesn’t deal with the problems that lead people to commit crimes.

Victoria has spent at least five years rapidly increasing spending on prisons and prison building and implementing a ‘tough on crime’ approach that has resulted in longer and harsher sentences. Our prison population has grown more than 40 per cent over the last decade.

But we haven’t seen a matching drop in crime rates or increased community safety.

There is an abundance of evidence showing that longer sentences and harsher treatment do not reduce crime. The Victorian Sentence Advisory Council has found that prison has little deterrent effect and often results in a higher rate of recidivism.[1]

Victoria needs a new plan to stop people going to prison in the first place and to keep them from returning.

The people who end up in our prison system are likely to be experiencing multiple and significant disadvantages. For example:

  • Only 6 per cent of male and 14 per cent of female Victorian prisoners have completed secondary, trade or tertiary education
  • 66 per cent of male and 45 per cent of female Victorian prisoners were unemployed when they were imprisoned
  • 87 per cent of female prisoners in Victoria were victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or multiple forms of abuse
  • The majority of offenders have a history of substance use that is directly related to their offending.[2]

Prison rates are also higher for Victoria’s Indigenous population; Aboriginal people are 13 times more likely to be in prison than non-Aboriginal Victorians, and Aboriginal women are the fastest growing prison population in the state. Most of these women are mothers, with children who often end up caught in an already struggling child protection system.

But there are alternatives to locking up more disadvantaged Victorians for longer periods.

Other countries are taking a justice reinvestment approach to reducing the number of people in prison. Justice reinvestment redirects money from the expensive corrections system into cost-effective community initiatives that target the underlying causes of crime. Many jurisdictions that have adopted a justice reinvestment approach are seeing significant decreases in crime. In California, Ireland and Sweden, for example, authorities are overseeing large reductions in prison populations due to the suite of justice reinvestment policies that have been enacted.

Investing in services that address underlying issues of mental health, unemployment, homelessness and drug and alcohol are more cost effective, efficient and sustainable than putting more people in prison.

VCOSS is calling all parties to commit to developing a justice reinvestment plan that diverts people from prison, improves treatment of prisoners and supports rehabilitation of people leaving prison.

More VCOSS strategies to reform the corrections system through being smarter on crime are in our State Election Platform, Victoria Without Poverty.

Also have a look at our partners in the Smart Justice Coalition, who advocate for criminal justice policies that reduce crime, are based on evidence, and comply with human rights. http://www.smartjustice.org.au/

[1] D Ritchie, Does Imprisonment Deter? A review of the evidence, Sentence Advisory Council, April 2011, p.61.

[2] Smart Justice, More prisons are not the answer to reducing crime, November 2011.