Put simply, Victoria is operating the most expensive, yet worst performing correctional system of any state in Australia, and under the Andrews government, things are getting worse, not better.
Emblematic of the cost problems facing Victoria’s correctional system, the government allocated about $1 million per bed in the 2018-19 budget to fund the new Lara prison expansion, which has recently been increased by another 548 beds at further cost to the state.
This contrasts to the recently constructed Macquarie Correctional Centre in NSW, a 400-bed maximum-security men’s prison that was constructed at a capital cost around $500,000 per bed – roughly half the cost of Victoria’s new jail.
Given every dollar spent building prisons is one dollar less for keeping people out of them, such innovative build models could unlock hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent on a range of rehabilitation and diversion programs.
At current rates of population growth and imprisonment in Victoria, we will need to add almost 200 new prison beds to our system each and every year. At $1 million a bed, the costs of our system are simply unsustainable and we need to be looking at new ways to keep people out of prison in the first place.
A key concern for the future of our prison system and community more broadly is that 15- to 19-year-olds are now the largest cohort of offenders in cases of violent crimes against the person.
Youth offending is a complex issue with no easy solution. However, I believe there should be a focus on pragmatic policies to provide more opportunities for young people and give them a sense of achievement, self-worth and belonging that will keep them out of crime.
Programs such as Police in Schools can play a vital role in rebuilding respect for law enforcement and helping young people understand Victoria Police are there to protect them, and are not out to get them.
What are we doing to address the early warning signs of people getting caught up in the wrong crowd or making the wrong decisions? Again our education system should be identifying these early signs and providing pathways to a job, programs and support to keep students at school and an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
Consistent participation in school and school programs is essential to keeping young people engaged and out of crime. With some kids in Victoria missing up to months’ worth of school a year, clearly more needs to be done to ensure kids are in class and out of trouble during the day.
Victoria’s trend of ever-increasing costs and worsening recidivism must be addressed as a priority by this government.
When our state continues to be at the bottom of the class when it comes to cost, performance and with an exploding prison demand, then it’s time to start looking at different ways to fix the problem.
David Southwick MP is shadow minister for corrections.