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Reducing reoffending the key to creating safer communities: Ombudsman report

Jesuit Social Services today welcomes findings of the Victorian Ombudsman’s Investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria, which recommends a whole-of-government approach focused on reducing reoffending.

“We know that our prison system is overworked and overcrowded, and that more than half of the people in Victoria’s prisons have previously served a custodial sentence,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“This points to a system that is inefficient at preparing people for their return to the community, and one that does not rehabilitate people to become productive members of society on their exit.”

The Ombudsman’s report outlines that the increase in Victorian prisoner numbers – which passed 6,000 people for the first time in mid-2014, largely as a result of reforms to sentencing, bail and parole – is reducing access to programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

“Less than 700 of the approximately 6,600 people who leave prison each year are provided with transitional support and most of this group receive between just three and 22 contact hours of support,” says Ms Edwards.

“Many people in our prison system are dealing with multiple, complex forms of disadvantage – for example 55 per cent of prisoners have alcohol or drug problems and 43 per cent expect to be homeless on release. This limited nature of support means people exiting prison do not get to adequately address the problems they face and in turn this exacerbates the likelihood of their reoffending.”

Last year Jesuit Social Services released a report outlining how just a 15 per cent reduction in reoffending could reduce the annual cost of Victoria’s prison system by up to $23.4 million. The report demonstrates how the number could be achieved by targeting the disadvantage behind crime through sustained investments into services such as housing, health and education and training pathways.

“A modest reduction in reoffending such as this has the potential to reduce some of the cost of prison spending and lead to better outcomes for people who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, and safer communities for all Victorians,” says Ms Edwards.

Jesuit Social Services also welcomes other recommendations from the report including further investment to expand alternatives to incarceration such as the successful Drug Court and Koori Court models, and to ensure that alcohol and drug treatment programs are available in all Victorian prisons.