Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Victoria’s prison population on the rise

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In June, government figures were released projecting Victoria’s prison population growth over the next four years. Currently 8,110 people are being held in custody in the state with expectations that this will skyrocket to 11,130 by June 2023.

This startling rise is replicated in most other states. Nationwide there has been a 39% increase in the prison population over the last decade!

The issue is these figures do not correlate with an actual increase in crime. Rather they reflect policy changes, with both major parties pushing a “law and order” agenda.

Blanket sentencing changes mean that magistrates often have no option but to keep people in remand or refuse parole.

There has been such a shift away from diversionary measures that in the last six years offenders remanded into custody sentencing has increased 196%! They now make up roughly 38% of the prison population.

Victoria is now jailing more people than ever before. Politicians and the capitalist press are fuelling fear in the population, suggesting that we are experiencing a wave of lawlessness. But even the police have been forced to admit this is not the case. Rather the major parties use these scare tactics to divert people from the real issues they face.

Incidents such as the Bourke Street tragedy in 2016, sexual assaults, and the murder of several women by men while on parole, or after being released from prison, have been used as reasons to crack down on crime.

People were rightly outraged to find out that Adrian Bayley, was actually on parole when he raped and murdered Jill Meagher. The justice system does not treat violent crimes and sexual assault with the seriousness needed. But while there is no question that serious crimes need to be dealt with, new laws have seen increasing numbers of people arbitrarily locked up for minor non-violent crimes.

Stack and rack

New prisons, such as the privately-run Ravenhall Correctional Centre, were originally designed to house 1000 male inmates at a cost of $2.5 billion over 25 years. But now Ravenhall plans to increase its population by another 300.

Other prisons including Lara and the women’s Dame Phyllis Frost prison will also increase the number of beds they have. A further 550 beds will be added to existing prisons to cater for the expected increase in detainees.

In many instances this will be done by putting extra bunks into existing cells, known as “stacking and racking”. This type of approach creates problems of over-crowding. For example, one inquiry found that over-crowding contributed to the Metropolitan Remand Centre riots in 2015.

Despite this attempt at cost saving a staggering $1.8 billion per year is currently being spent by the Victorian Labor government on prisons.

As The Age pointed out, the same government by comparison will spend just $200 million on a mere 1000 new public housing dwellings over the next three years. This is in a state that has about 80,000 people on the public housing waiting list!

This stark example shows just how skewed Labor’s priorities are. That this government has presented itself as progressive is a sick joke.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that investment in public services like housing, education and healthcare would actually address some of the issues that lead people to commit crime.

Furthermore, if people leaving prison actually had real opportunities of work the rate of recidivism would dramatically decrease. Victoria’s re-offending rate currently sits at 44%.

The prison population increase is directly linked to the private for-profit prison model. Private prisons were first introduced in Victoria in the 1990s. Today about 40% of the state’s prison population is held in privately managed facilities.

In the 1990s we were told that prison privatisation would lead to lower costs and better outcomes, but just like with other privatised services the exact opposite has happened.

Today Victoria has one of the most expensive prison systems in the world. The taxpayer dollars being used to pay for this is being funnelled into the pockets of private operators like Serco, G4s and the GEO group.

These multinational companies have had their profits boosted thanks to privatisation and the harsher sentencing laws that are supported by both the major parties.

That capitalism seeks to make profits from crime rather than working to eliminate it highlights just how rotten this system is. As well as campaigning for prisons to be taken out of private hands, we need to fight for a world where they are no longer needed.

By a prison healthcare worker


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