Vacro welcomes the news, announced by the Minister for Corrections today, that the Victorian Government will close Port Phillip Prison, in Melbourne’s west, and Dhurringhile Prison, near Shepparton. The number of people incarcerated in Victoria is at its lowest level for a decade after peaking in 2019, and the prison system is substantially under-capacity. This is a good thing: crime rates have been decreasing for a long time, and there is increasing recognition that incarceration is an ineffective response to crime. Over the last few years, we have been advocating that the government use this historic opportunity to reduce the size of the prison system and invest instead in community services that help people caught up in the justice system to create new beginnings and thrive in their communities.

Prisons cause significant harm to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society, as well as their children, families, and communities. Furthermore, prisons do not function as a deterrent to crime and are in fact themselves criminogenic. Our strongly held position has been that we should reduce the size of the prison system in Victoria, de-privatise the existing system, and invest instead in community-based alternatives to prison.

We urge the government to invest in community-based alternatives to prison

Although the closure of Port Phillip and Dhurringhile prisons is a welcome development, we note that the government has simultaneously announced the opening of the new Western Plains Correctional Centre, which was completed in 2022 at a cost of $1.1 billion. We maintain our position that we should be moving away from prison and towards alternative responses to crime; closing more prisons without opening new ones.

The reduction in the size of the prison system announced today will free up resources in the Department of Justice and Community Safety’s budget. We urge the government to invest this funding in community-based alternatives to prison: diversion, restorative justice, and specialised support. Everyone preparing to leave prison must have access to long-term reintegration support that helps them get out and stay out of the system. Investment in housing, disability support, and support to recover from addiction to alcohol and other drugs must be prioritised, while spending on police, prisons, and other carceral responses must start to decrease. We hope that today’s announcement will mark the beginning of a shift in the Victorian government’s response to crime towards these more supportive, evidence-based options and away from a reliance on systems of incarceration and punishment that are proven to be criminogenic.

It is especially imperative that the government fully fund Aboriginal legal services, health services, and other community-controlled organisations if we are to begin to address the shameful fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most heavily incarcerated population on earth.

Victoria should continue to de-privatise its prison system

We are particularly happy to see that Victoria’s largest private prison, Port Phillip Prison, is one of the facilities slated to close. Victoria has the world’s highest proportion of prisoners housed in private prisons, at nearly 40%. This is nearly double the national figure of 20%, and nearly five times the 8% of incarcerated people housed in private facilities in the USA. The available research on the impact of privatisation on Victoria’s prison system is that expectations of cheaper, better, and more accountable service provision have not been met. Available performance data shows that performance indicators such as assaults in prisons, hours out of prison cells, and vocational education and training opportunities in prisons, have deteriorated since privatisation. However, a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of private prisons versus public prisons has never been possible in Victoria because successive governments have limited the amount of data that is released.

Our practice experience is that private prisons are extremely low in transparency and accountability, and poor at information-sharing. This severely restricts the capacity of Parliament and the public to hold government to account for the operation of these prisons. Contracts between the government and the private, international companies operating the prisons are held commercial-in-confidence, meaning we are unable to identify contractual violations, and there is no independent inspector general of prisons in Victoria. Port Phillip Prison, operated by private security firm G4S, has long been known by our participants and our staff as a place from which reintegration into the community is extremely difficult.

For any media enquiries, please contact Vacro Senior Policy & Advocacy Advisor, Abigail Lewis at [email protected] or 0468 566 218.

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