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In brief: Submission to the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System

Jesuit Social Services was pleased to contribute a submission to the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System. We highlighted some of our concerns with current operations, and presented our vision of an evidence-based, socially just system underpinned by principles of prevention, early intervention, and restorative justice.

Context

The Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee is undertaking a broad-ranging review of the state’s criminal justice system, considering growing prison populations and high rates of recidivism. It will release its report and recommendations for reform on 10 March 2022.

Jesuit Social Services contributed a written submission and gave verbal evidence to the committee’s inquiry in September 2021. Our contributions are grounded in our 45 years of experience supporting people in contact with the criminal justice system, and our work with families entangled in the web of disadvantage that can leave people at greater risk of involvement with the justice system.

Jesuit Social Services regularly contributes submissions on the topic of justice reform, including recently to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights consultation on a Spent Convictions Discrimination Guideline (February 2022); the Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial System (December 2021); and the Victoria Police Services Survey (April 2021).

Themes

Our submission is grounded in our call for a whole-of-government approach to underpin the justice system, with clear targets for reducing the prison and remand populations. It argues that with good leadership, determination, and a clear vision, dropping the prison population and recidivism rate are well within reach – changes made during COVID-19 show us a new approach to justice is possible and achievable.

Our submission is broad in ambition, yet grounded in practical detail gained from first-hand experience working with people involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the criminal justice system. It considers strategies to strengthen communities and prevent crime in the first place, offers effective alternatives to imprisonment, and recommends reform to in-prison and post-prison transition processes, which would reduce recidivism.

Recommendations

Our submission makes 55 recommendations, covering the following areas:

  • Prevent crime and intervene early through place-based and culturally appropriate approaches that strengthen communities, address violence, and connect people with opportunities for education, training and employment.
  • Promote alternatives to imprisonment by diverting people away from the justice system, reforming legislation, and resourcing restorative justice approaches.
  • Reduce the harm arising from justice system involvement through improved practices and oversight at detention facilities and stronger therapeutic and healthcare responses.
  • Enable better transitions from the justice system to the community, with a focus on expanded transitional support and improved post-prison housing opportunities.

We have an opportunity to return Victoria to its previous position as leading the country in humane, effective, and evidence-based approaches to people in trouble – in a way that holds them accountable for their actions, breaks the cycle of criminalisation and offending, and gives people hope to transform their lives.

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