In the lead-up to the election and through our State Election Platform, Victoria Without Poverty VCOSS has called for parties to adopt a ‘justice reinvestment’ approach that addresses the underlying cause of offending and diverts people from the prison system. Addressing the underlying causes of offending is an effective way of cutting crime, because the people who commit crimes are likely to have been experiencing multiple and complex disadvantages.
The ‘tough on crime’ approach has been tried in Victoria for a number of years but has done little to improve community safety. We now have longer, harsher sentences, more people in overcrowded prisons and money being spent on building new prisons. At the same time our prison population and prison spending have grown, our crime rate has also risen.
The following outlines some of the more significant justice policies announced by the major parties, but is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all justice policies announced.
Diversion and prison programs
Diversion programs provide offenders with the opportunity to avoid a criminal record by undertaking conditions that benefit the offender, victim and the community as a whole. VCOSS has called for diversion to be enshrined in legislation for young people from first police contact through to court attendance, as well as for investment in the continuum of programs to help divert people from prison, improve prisoner rehabilitation and address the underlying causes of offending. The Smart Justice and Smart Justice for Young People coalitions have identified some of the gaps in our criminal justice system.
- A legislated, pre-plea diversion program in the Children’s Court, including $7m for a statewide youth diversion program
- New transitional housing for Aboriginal people released from prison
- $26m for pre-release and post-release prison programs to be delivered by VACRO, Jesuit Social Services, ACSO and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
- Expansion of the Landmate prisoner work program, where low-risk prisoners assist volunteer community organisations like the CFA and SES.
- Has made few specific announcements related to prison and justice issues. However, in its 2014 platform, committed to invest in statewide youth diversion programs to reduce recidivism among young offenders and to amend the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to allow for mandated diversion options in the Children’s Court.
- Committed funding to help transition prisoners being held in police cells to corrective services custody
- Support justice reinvestment as the best approach to reducing crime and reducing the need for more prisons. Specifically they are committed to:
- Diverting funds from more creating prison beds to delivering justice reinvestment programs in the community.
- Sufficient ongoing funding for statewide diversion programs for all young people needing such programs at all stages within the criminal justice system.
- Amending the Children Youth & Families Act 2005 to provide for pre-sentence diversion, similar to legislation that already provides for it under the adult system.
We need to find the right balance between using prison sentences and other methods to appropriately deter and rehabilitate offenders, and prevent crime. Studies show that increasing the length of prison sentences does little to increase deterrence.
- Baseline sentencing reforms including increased sentences for murder, large-scale drug trafficking and one-punch assault resulting in death and indefinite sentences for serious repeat offenders.
- New powers for DPP to appeal against sentences it considers inadequate.
- Said last year that if elected it would introduce jury sentencing recommendations for serious offences.
- Reinstate suspended sentences and home detention as options for sentencing where appropriate.
- Repeal mandatory sentencing for criminal offences, leaving the courts to decide the most appropriate sentence based on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Community legal centres provide legal information, assistance and representation when needed, to Victorians facing disadvantage. These services are an important part of the justice system as Victorians facing disadvantage are more likely to face legal issues at some stage of their life than other Victorians. VCOSS has called for funding for community legal centres and Aboriginal legal services to meet demand, and to expand innovative approaches that successfully engage vulnerable people.
- $2m for a new rural and farming community legal centre.
- $2m additional funding for a ‘community legal centres assistance fund’ to support programs and services affected by state and federal cuts.
- The Greens policy commits to investment in:
- legal aid and community legal centres to ensure equal access to justice for all Victorians
- information provision about legal rights, responsibilities and processes, online and through community legal centres, and outreach services in rural and regional Victoria
- specialist services at people’s first point of contact with the justice system, particularly in relation to family violence and also for drug-related offences.
VCOSS welcomes policies from all parties that aim to address the underlying cause of offending and in doing so, cut the rate of crime in our community. An article in the latest edition of’ Insight: Voting for a Victoria without poverty’, Reducing Crime by Investing in Communities, by Michelle McDonnell from the Federation of Community Legal Centres and the Smart Justice Project, also outlines the case for Victoria turning towards a justice reinvestment approach. VCOSS looks forward to working with all major parties in the next term of government to help build a safer Victoria for all.
 Criminal Justice Diversion Program, Magistrate’s Court of Victoria, undated.