The announcement last week that the Andrews Labor Government in Victoria will spend $1.8 billion to build an additional 1,600 prison beds across Victoria, comes in the wake of a huge increase in the number of prisoners awaiting their court date.
In Victoria, the number of unsentenced, adult prisoners increased by 196% in the six years to March 2019. This means that 35% (2,708 prisoners) of the adult prisoner population2 are unsentenced and subject to the presumption of innocence. The new prison facilities will just cover the projected increase in prisoners on remand over this period.
The numbers keep on increasing as a result of tougher bail laws, more severe penalties, mandatory sentencing and anti-association laws introduced by the Andrews government. Whilst the $403.7 million allocated to improved court and diversionary programs is very welcome, it pales in comparison to the $1.8 billion allocated to building a new jail.
The average time people spend on remand in Victoria is 2.5 months.2 There is clearly room for improvements in the speed at which people are processed through the justice system. Victorian prisoners awaiting trial suffer increasingly severe drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health problems as a result of their sentence.3 Decreasing the amount of time prisoners have to wait before facing court will undoubtedly lead to a decrease in these problems also.
So, ask yourself, “Would money spent on building new prison beds be better spent on the justice system to decrease the amount of time people spend on remand?”
1 Corrections Victoria, Monthly Prisoner and Offender Statistics
2ABS Stats – Prisoners in Australia, 2018
3 Freiberg A & Ross C 1999. Sentencing reform and penal change. Sydney: Federation Press