Focus on social justice: Latest report on recommendations

 
Wednesday 4 July 2018
 
Inadequate financial support provided to kinship carers and children from disadvantaged backgrounds being expelled from school at a disproportionately high rate are among the issues identified by the Victorian Ombudsman over the past year.
 
Ombudsman Deborah Glass has tabled in the Victorian Parliament her second biennial report on the implementation of her investigations’ recommendations. Her report covers the 125 recommendations she made to state and local government bodies between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2018.
 
Ms Glass said her 14 public reports over the two years covered a wide range of issues and agencies, in some cases exposing poor behaviour, with wider lessons for the public sector.
 
 “The strongest theme emerging from my reports is one of social justice for the most marginalised in our society, and the impact on all of us when it is not realised,” Ms Glass said.
 
“We investigated the unfairness of a system that discriminates against kinship carers, many of them grandparents on low incomes struggling to look after children when the child’s own parents cannot cope. They not only take on some very damaged children to provide a supportive family environment, a key factor missing in many children who end up in trouble, they save us a fortune when children might otherwise be in state care.
 
“We also investigated expulsions in schools – formal and informal – one of the common factors that can start a child on a life of crime.”
 
Ms Glass said in her first year as Ombudsman in 2014, she began looking into rehabilitation in prisons, and since then her office has investigated “many aspects of social disadvantage that all too often contribute to our burgeoning prison population.”
 
She said it was pleasing that in line with the recommendations from her 2015 report into rehabilitation in prisons, the state government has expanded some therapeutic forms of justice such as Drug Courts; invested more in mental health services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services; and allowed
Aboriginal prisoners to retain the proceeds of their artwork produced in prison to support their rehabilitation.
 
However, she noted the prison population is higher than ever, with over a third of prisoners on remand, including in the women’s prison. The recidivism rate –percentage of prisoners who return within two years – remains high at 44 per cent, with an Auditor-General’s report finding it costs $127,000 per year to house each prisoner.
 
Facts and figures
Nearly one third of Ms Glass’s 125 recommendations from the two years to 31 March 2018 have been implemented in full, while 68 per cent are being progressed. Only one of her recommendations – that the government stop the practice of routinely strip searching female prisoners – was not accepted by the relevant body.
 
Among the other recommendations which have contributed towards positive outcomes for Victorians:
  • Thirty councils are now live streaming their council meetings, in line with a recommendation from the Ombudsman’s Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making
  •  On-the-spot penalty fares on public transport have been abolished, in line with a recommendation from the Ombudsman’s Investigation into public transport fare evasion enforcement
  • The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages has improved its business practices and customer service, in line with a recommendation from the Investigation into the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ handling of a complaint.
Enquiries and investigations undertaken by the Ombudsman’s office since last December’s release of our Investigation into the financial support provided to kinship carers, have resulted in a further $201,224 of entitlements, including back payments, being made to kinship carers.
 
For more information, read the Ombudsman’s recommendations – second report
 
Media contact: Ainslie Gowan | Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 |  ainslie.gowan@ombudsman.vic.gov.au