In 2021, we contributed a submission to the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System, proposing practical suggestions for a reformed system focused on prevention, early intervention, and restorative justice. The submission’s author is our Policy, Research and Advocacy Coordinator Máire Wade, who spoke with us ahead of the release of the inquiry’s report about the process of pulling together the submission – and taking on the challenge of articulating Jesuit Social Services’ vision for a better justice system.

Hi, Máire! How and when did you start working on this submission?

We got the notification that submissions had opened in March 2021. I had just joined the organisation. We had an initial brainstorm in the policy team – what would we actually want to contribute here? The team was really supportive, and suggested I take this on. It was exciting, because it was such a good way for me to get my head around our programs. I went and made an outline based on that brainstorm, and I looked at all of our submissions that we’ve done over the past few years, to fill in some gaps.

How do you approach such a big and broad-reaching submission?

It’s always about: who are the individuals we support, and how do they fit into this inquiry? But this one was so broad it was also guided by: what research have we done, and what programs do we want to highlight that we know are effective? It’s coming from the perspective of practice wisdom, and the expertise of our staff, and hearing from participants involved in those programs, and combining that with our research.

Tell us about that research – what were you looking at?

In the outline, I put the basic dot points, for instance ‘we want to prevent people having contact with the justice system in the first place’, and then that’s when we can highlight Jesuit Social Services’ Dropping off the Edge research, and then our education, training and employment programs, and the Navigator program. After that, I sent the outline to all the general managers for their feedback, because the submission cut across every area of our work, and then we started writing.

You were working on this submission from home, in COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. How did that affect your work?

It was a shame that lockdown meant I couldn’t go out to visit the programs, visit the courts; it meant there was a lot of desktop research. A lot of it was picking up on past submissions – we’ve done so much of this work already. The authors of those past submissions were able to visit programs, sit with our teams, see things first-hand. I also attended an online Victorian Council of Social Services sector consultation, which was really good – it was great to share ideas with other people who were so passionate about this work.

One thing I’m really grateful for is lockdown made me really delve into our Justice Solutions reports, which are so good. They’re really interesting. I liked the way they helped me focus on: this is the vision of how it could be. That’s why we started out submission with that.

And then we appeared at a public hearing for the inquiry – our CEO Julie Edwards and Justice Programs General Manager Daniel Clements gave verbal evidence. What was your role in that?

I put together the briefing for Julie and Daniel ahead of the hearing. It was actually a bit scary! I put in a figure from the Productivity Commission, about how much it costs per year to keep someone in prison versus in the community, and Julie quoted it, and then someone from the committee said it sounded like a huge amount of money, and I was worried I’d put the wrong figure in, and it was getting reported… But I checked it, and it was right.

What’s the figure?

To imprison an adult for one day in Victoria in 2020-21 cost $323.45 compared to $46.84 per day on a Community Corrections Order.

The committee conducting the inquiry will release their report in March. What’s going to happen next?

I feel hopeful that the committee will take up a lot of our recommendations – our recommendations are based on what works and are pretty consistent across the sector. Our submission is fairly broad-reaching, and we’re not asking for unrealistic things. For example, with our youth justice asks: we’re saying use detention as a last resort, and if kids do need to be in detention, then they need to be housed in small, home-like facilities – things like that.

This work can be difficult if government isn’t compelled to listen to recommendations. What do you hope to happen from here?

There’s still such a focus on ‘let’s punish, let’s deter’. We keep going with ‘here’s our ideal vision’. Persistence is so important. Even if it takes years. It’s slow, strategic, meaningful work.

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