Media Release - Strong response to prisons discussion paper: serious impact of growth in prisoner numbers


2 February 2015
The Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass received 29 submissions in response to her discussion paper on the investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria.  Current and former prisoners, advocacy groups, professional and community service organisations and academics have all taken the opportunity to contribute.
‘We are hearing strong endorsement for the position put in our discussion paper that the growth in Victoria’s prison population is having a significant impact on the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners during and after their sentences,’ Ms Glass said.
‘That over half of prisoners re-offend is a huge cost to the community, in terms of both public safety and the public purse. We’re also hearing detail of a range of impacts on prisoners, including higher rates of assault and longer periods of isolation.’
When the investigation was launched in July 2014, Ms Glass said, ‘I am concerned to establish whether the services provided to prisoners are effective in reducing re‑offending; the impact of increasing prisoner numbers on these services; and whether there are any particular groups within the prisoner population that are not being adequately supported.’
This has been a focus in a number of the submissions, including the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), which noted that the growth in prisoner numbers has ‘resulted in more time spent in lock-down in prisoner cells, more prisoners classified as high security or placed in solitary confinement as a prison management tool, and fewer prisoners being given access to rehabilitation and education programs’ – HRLC submission.
Several submissions highlighted the importance of educational and transitional programs to successful rehabilitation, including some examples of good practice.
In the discussion paper, Ms Glass also raised concerns about the consistency of programs delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, and whether programs for women prisoners were sufficiently tailored to their needs.
Submissions have addressed this issue, with the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) submission focussing on prisoners with disabilities, Aboriginal people and women. VCOSS stated in its submission that ‘Incarceration has multi-generational impacts, with children of offenders at heightened risk of abuse, family violence, mental illness, poverty, housing instability and social isolation’ – VCOSS submission.  
‘We have also heard from several sources that there is real value in a greater focus on rehabilitation of young people, to reduce the likelihood of them re-offending,’ Ms Glass said.
‘A number of submissions focussed on the effect of drug and alcohol abuse, which is disproportionately prevalent in the prison population, and its impact on rehabilitation.
‘Submissions also detailed concerns about post-release services, in particular the availability of safe and stable housing. We were told that the provision (or lack) of post‑release services had the biggest impact on rates of return to prison.  
‘Other submissions focussed on wider aspects of the criminal justice system, including developing alternatives to prison to address offending behaviour, and investing more in services to prevent crime.
‘Many contributions highlighted the need for a whole-of-Government response, working together with non-government agencies, to ensure effective rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
‘The submissions are now being analysed along with further information received. Interviews will continue and evidence will be sought from interested parties as the team explores the issues identified.
‘I will publish a report, with recommendations, when the investigation is complete,’ Ms Glass said.
Link to the original media release and discussion paper
Further information:  Lynne Haultain Tel 03 9613 6200 | Mob 0409 936 235 | Follow @VicOmbudsman