Increase in prisoner population prompts call for alternative forms of justice

A blow-out in Victoria’s prison population in the last ten years is reason to consider other responses to crime, Bendigo’s community legal centre has said.  

A Sentencing Advisory Council report released yesterday found more than 6200 people were incarcerated in Victorian jails today, up from 4000 in 2005. 

The increase is largely because of a 150 per cent jump in people being refused bail, particularly those accused of violent offences. Unsentenced prisoners now make up almost one-third of all those behind bars.  

The council’s chairman, professor Arie Frieberg, said this was in keeping with community expectations that those alleged to have committed violent crimes not be granted bail.  

But Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre practice manager Clare Sauro said focus needed to shift away from prison sentences and on to forms of early intervention that “prevent people from entering jails in the first place”. 

“[LCCLC] is concerned about the high and rising levels of incarceration, which will only rise with changes to legislation and the building of new prisons,” she said.

“Considering the cost of imprisoning an adult is over $350 per day, we need to think whether this investment is worth it,” Ms Sauro said.

Addressing the underlying causes of crime was what Ms Sauro believed would ultimately make the community safer.  

The council’s report also found the number of female and indigenous people in prison rose at a higher rate than their male and non-Aboriginal peers, while the type of crimes for which people were jailed had changed as well. 

Property crimes were the main reason people were imprisoned in 2005, but most inmates today were jailed for offences against other members of the community.

In the City of Greater Bendigo, these offences, which include assault, robbery and sexual offences, have increased steadily year on year since 2012, data from the Crime Statistics Agency shows.