There has been a dramatic increase in Australia’s prison population in the last two decades despite falling crime rates. This is not a result of a growing population or more men and women turning to crime, but rather tougher laws, enhanced policing, and the failures of imprisonment. Data shows that individuals who are sentenced to prison, as opposed to another form of penalty, are significantly more likely to re-offend.
The rising prison population reveals that punishment, regardless of its efficacy, is central to Australia’s criminal justice approach. Prisons do not rehabilitate individuals as they fail to address complex disadvantages and the root causes of offending. The Victorian Government announced $1.8 billion in new spending in prisons and corrections earlier this year, including the expansion of five prisons. This project rests upon the promise to keep the community safe as well as deliver thousands of jobs, while the reality will be increased recidivism and trauma.
The construction of 106 new cells and two new 20-bed “Management Units” for solitary confinement at the Dame Phyllis Frost Center, a maximum-security prison for women, is part of the Andrews Government billion dollar proposal. History has shown that when prison cells are built, they are filled. This expansion is a significant step in the wrong direction and has raised concern among local legal services, civil society groups and the wider community. Women in prison are overwhelmingly victims and survivors of trauma, sexual assault and family violence, which is further compounded by practices such as strip searches and solitary confinement. Women are isolated from their families, having profound and enduring impacts on their children and entire communities.
Build Homes not Prisons is a powerful campaign calling on the Victorian Government to stop the expansion of Dame Phyllis Frost and re-allocate the budget for prison building to public housing to provide “housing first” and support for criminalised women and their children. Evidence shows jurisdictions that spend more on prisons and less on housing and social services have higher crime rates. Increased spending on housing is associated with decreased violent crime and lower rates of incarceration. Diverting funds from prison expansion to building and supporting 1,000 new public and Aboriginal-controlled homes will have far greater benefits for the community. Justice Action supports this campaign and has emphasised the importance of justice reinvestment initiatives such as increased public housing in our submission for the upcoming inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system.
To support Build Homes not Prisons sign the open letter: https://homesnotprisons.com.au/#sign-the-Letter
For further insights on the failures of imprisonment: https://justiceaction.org.au/failures-of-imprisonment/