This is a long-form analysis of the Victorian Government’s investments in the justice system. For a quick summary of specific Budget program expenditure in this space click here.
VCOSS has long advocated for prevention and early intervention approaches to stop people from becoming involved with the criminal justice system – that is, ensuring people have safe and stable housing, adequate incomes and can access health and social services in their communities to address issues that place them at risk of becoming criminalised.
The 2021-22 Budget introduced an early intervention investment framework (EIIF), which aims to reduce the budget pressures caused by reliance on acute and crisis services.
An additional 16 initiatives have been funded in the 2022-23 Budget, many of which will have a direct impact on people at risk of or involved with Victoria’s justice system, including:
- Legal assistance, comprising $50 million/2 years for Victoria Legal Aid and $7 million for community legal centres.
- $73.6 million/4 years for the “reducing justice system demand and keeping the community safe” package that comprises funding to continue effective programs including:
- Continued operation of the Maribyrnong Community Residential Facility that provides housing and transition support to men leaving prison
- Expanding the family visits support program
- Enhanced rehabilitation and reintegration support services
- Bolstering the Women and Mentoring Program
- Improved oversight of high-risk offenders on Community Corrections Orders.
- $4.5 million for preventing youth crime through early intervention programs aimed at engaging young people in the community.
We welcome the Government’s recognition of the critical role of legal assistance in early intervention. However, VCOSS understands that the already modest funding for Victoria Legal Aid is not new money but is instead from their cash reserves. Further, it is unclear how the funding for community legal centres will be allocated, and given the ever-increasing demand for these services across Victoria it is unclear what impact such a modest amount will have on community legal service delivery. Looking ahead, we would like to see additional government revenue for VLA, and a sustainable funding model for community legal services to ensure access to justice for Victorians experience disadvantage.
The other initiatives funded under the EIIF are sensible to improve justice system responses. However, this Budget again misses the opportunity to adopt a justice reinvestment strategy.
Under a justice reinvestment strategy, partners (including government) make longer-term investments in long-term change. Decisions and action are underpinned by new forms of community governance and funding structures. There is a strong focus on communities owning and controlling data and using that data to determine which interventions will deliver the best social and economic return on investment for their community.
While there is $0.6 million provided in this Budget for data integration to support the EIIF to measure the benefits of the Government’s approach, it is not yet clear whether this data will be publicly available – under a justice reinvestment strategy, systems could be established to ensure that shared learning and evidence can be derived from place-based programs.
VCOSS continues to advocate for the adoption of a wellbeing approach to budgeting, which would assist the state to address risk factors for criminalisation at the population level.
Under a justice reinvestment strategy, partners (including government) make longer-term investments in long-term change. Decisions and action are underpinned by new forms of community governance and funding structures.
The recent Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice Systemacknowledges thelink between socioeconomic disadvantage and increased risk of criminalisation and victimisation, and makes a number of recommendations aimed at prioritising early intervention and providing social supports to divert people away from the system.
This Budget provides welcome investments in a range of initiatives that respond to some of the long-standing justice system issues found in the Inquiry, including:
- $5.9 million/3 years to expand the highly successful Assessment and Referral Court and provide therapeutic responses to persons with mental illness and/or cognitive impairment.
- $11 million/2 years to provide a range of pre-court and case management programs in the Magistrates and County Courts.
- $39.5 million/4 years to establish a new financial assistance scheme for victims of crime, and $13.3 million/4 years to provide a range of supports to improve responses to victims of sexual violence and harm.
- $2.5 million to provide aged care health services for people in prison, and $35.9 million/2 years to improve integration between state services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
VCOSS looks forward to the Victorian Government’s response to the Inquiry and future investment in criminal justice reform that prevents people from becoming criminalised in the first place, as well as ensuring people leave the justice system for good.