VACRO welcomes additional funding for supported family visits

The Victorian Budget, announced on 3 May 2022, allocated funding to expand our supported family visits program, currently running in both women’s prisons, into the men’s prison system.

In the Family Visits Program, VACRO’s family workers facilitate video visits between women and their families and provide visit planning and socio-emotional support to all parties before and after each call. Through regular, meaningful visits, the Family Visits Program offers a unique way for children to connect with their mothers, and for mothers to continue to play an important, hands-on role in their child's life. The program also facilitates stronger relationships between participants and primary carers, partners, and other family members.

Making this program available to incarcerated men will help fill some of the yawning gap in parenting support available to them. The additional funding is welcome recognition that strong family connections and positive new identities are important factors that can reduce a person's risk of re-offending and ease the transition from prison to community.

The program will share an allocation of $22.7 million in 2022/23, and $73.6 million over the forward estimates, with a number of other small yet mighty initiatives such as rehabilitation and reintegration support programs, specialist post-release housing, and mentoring services.

However, the budget papers emphasise the continued expansion of the prison system

The allocation of Budget funding to these proven initiatives is very welcome. However, the $90.1 million allocated just this year to open a new prison for children at Cherry Creek and the $39.5 million for the new Western Plains maximum security men’s prison are a reminder that the prison system is still expanding considerably.

The fact that Western Plains will not receive prisoners next year even though it is completed is indicative of Victoria’s lower prison population since the onset of COVID in 2020. However, without changes to policy and legislative settings, the population will rise again.

More than a third of the people in prison in Victoria – and more than half of incarcerated women – have not been sentenced. They are likely in prison on remand, awaiting trial or sentencing. Fixing our broken bail laws, which have caused this explosion in our remand population, will ensure that future governments will not have to further expand the prison system.