The 2023-24 Victorian State Budget, handed down during a challenging economic period as the state works towards recovering from the pandemic, contains a range of investments to improve outcomes for people who have contact with the state’s criminal justice system, says Jesuit Social Services.

“This is a relatively lean budget compared to recent years, which have made unprecedented investments into infrastructure, health and social housing, with the Victorian Government outlining a COVID Debt Repayment Plan as a key way to recover from local and global challenges we have experienced,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“That said, we are happy to see some progressive investments into continuing to reform the state’s justice systems, to prevent people from having contact with the system in the first place and ensuring that if they do have contact, they are supported to turn their lives around for the better.

“This includes the funding of Drug Court pilots in Shepparton and Ballarat to support health-based responses, not punitive responses, to serious societal problems such as substance abuse, and $7 million to expand the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s regional hub model to provide culturally safe legal services at a number of new sites across the state.”
Ms Edwards says an investment of $144 million to reduce recidivism, help people reintegrate into the community after their release and improve the health of Victorians in custody can help people to address some of the underlying factors behind their offending and lead positive lives.

“We know that far too many people who exit prison – more than 40 per cent – return within two years. This is not helping anybody, and demonstrates that many people who exit prison do so worse off than when they entered. We’re happy to see funding for programs that support women in custody to remain connected to their families and children and provide housing for women on remand or serving short sentences. These can make a significant difference in the ability for somebody to lead a healthy, safe and productive life after exiting the system,” says Ms Edwards.

The Victorian Government had previously announced the transition of primary health services in the state’s two women’s prisons to community-based providers. Ms Edwards says this is welcome – but that all health services in prison should be delivered by not-for-profit providers.

“We also continue to call on Victoria to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 now, not in 2027 which has been committed to. We will continue to advocate for this to become a reality in next year’s State Budget, including the funding of restorative justice approaches to support children under 14 to take accountability for their behaviour in the community,” says Ms Edwards.

Jesuit Social Services also welcomes funding to continue the support for some of the state’s most marginalised jobseekers, $33 million to help young people exiting residential care into housing, and additional funding to implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

“We acknowledge that this Budget comes at a challenging time and that spending in some key areas has been reduced, however all investments into an evidence-based justice system that gives people the best chance to turn their lives around also helps to create a stronger and more cohesive Victoria.”

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