Jesuit Social Services

Law and order - social policy in Victoria

Jesuit Social Services has been working with people in the justice system since 1977. During this time we have observed trends that disturb us and we have been impelled to advocate for the changes necessary to protect the dignity and human rights of this group of people.

Everyone - regardless of age, gender, nationality and location - has the right to feel safe and live as part of the community.

The causes of crime are complex however the current public debate in Victoria is dominated by a ‘lock them up’ attitude, which is driving support for a punitive approach to justice.

Jesuit Social Services knows that putting people in jail makes it more likely that they will reoffend once released.

Creating a safe society is about finding the best way to ensure that people who commit crimes are brought to account – and it is about preventing people from getting caught in cycles of reoffending.

When we reduce crime, all members of the community benefit. Less people in jail saves precious taxpayer dollars. Early intervention helps young people deal with issues such as mental illness, drug and alcohol problems and a lack of education. It helps them get their lives back on track so they can contribute to society.

Jesuit Social Services is calling on the Victorian Government to make five commitments to create a safer community:

1. No more prison beds

Crime rates will not be reduced by imprisoning more people and creating new prison beds – but it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Sending people to jail increases the likelihood they’ll reoffend. Research shows that typically around two out of every three young people who have been in custody re-offend within two years.

The Government needs to invest more money in prevention and diversionary programs rather than putting more people behind bars and building more prisons.

Bringing offenders face- to- face with their victims and other community members via the Jesuit Social Services’ Community Group Conferencing program, to face the impact of the offending and make amends has been successful, with over 80 per cent of participants not reoffending within two years.

Providing adequate funding for preventative programs will do much more for community safety and lowering crime rates than increasing prison bed numbers will.

2. No minimum sentencing

The judiciary should retain sentencing discretion because every crime is different and the circumstances of the case must be taken into consideration when sentencing.

The Government’s decision to introduce statutory minimum sentencing for offenders who commit acts of gross violence will not allow judges and magistrates to use their skills, expertise and knowledge to hand out an appropriate sentence.

Complex needs, such as mental health problems, disability, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness must be taken into consideration when sentencing.

The plan to introduce statutory minimum  sentencing must be stopped and sentencing  should be left to the judiciary who are already meeting community expectations.

The Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study found that from a survey of jurors, 90 per cent agreed the judge’s sentence was very or fairly appropriate, with more than half of those surveyed leaning towards greater leniency than the judge’s sentence.

3. Young people must be kept separate from adults in the justice system

Children must be kept in separate facilities and services from adult offenders because they are vulnerable and have different needs to those who have reached maturity.

Putting children in harsher adult prison facilities does not deter them from reoffending. Research shows that placing children in a criminal learning environment where they face harsher prison conditions does not deter future offending.

When young people are on remand, they must be placed separately to adults.

4. More funding for community based alternatives to keep young people out of prison

Community based alternatives are most cost effective, and produce better outcomes for offenders, than custody.

A three-month period in custody in a youth justice facility costs $48, 221 per individual, while the Group Conferencing Program is estimated to cost $5,022 per individual on average, a KPMG Review of the Youth Justice Group Conferencing Program revealed.

Community based programs ensure young offenders take responsibility for their actions while being helped with skills and support to prevent them from reoffending.

5. Stronger focus on addressing the disadvantage that lies at the root of crime

Crime rates can be reduced if we address the root causes of crime.

More funding needs to be invested in addressing the causes of disadvantage such as a lack of education, poor health and family support.

Typically, those who are imprisoned are also victims of crime, child abuse and neglect and have poor literacy, education and low employment prospects.

Only around 6 per cent of male prisoners in Victoria have completed secondary, trade or tertiary education.