19 May 2021

The Age: “Last year, *Rachel was jailed for six days for stealing an ice-cream — a $3.50 Bubble O’Bill from a St Kilda convenience store. It was the kind of minor transgression that might once have prompted a stern reprimand from a police officer or a magistrate, but this was 2020 and Rachel was remanded because she’d committed an indictable offence while already on bail. So under laws that Premier Daniel Andrews had spruiked as the toughest in the country, she spent two days in the custody centre and four in Dame Phyllis Frost prison in Ravenhall. Victoria’s bail laws were tightened … These changes have put a spiralling number of unsentenced remandees on low-level offences — people like Rachel — in jail at a rate that is fuelling concern about human rights, social impacts and the burgeoning cost to taxpayers. In April, a record 44 per cent of the state’s 7227 prisoners were on remand, many awaiting court dates on criminal charges where bail would likely have been granted before the crackdown. Government documents indicating Indigenous women are now jailed at 20 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. Women’s and other legal groups are now demanding urgent reform. They say the government’s tough-on-crime policies are both costly to taxpayers and damaging to some of the most disadvantaged people in the state.” How bad is it? “Confidential high-level government documents from late 2019 and early 2020 seen by The Age forecast that under existing policies the prison system would be over-capacity by 2024 despite record spending on prison infrastructure in the 2019 budget.” But… “Senior government figures also downplayed the likelihood of bail reform before the November 2022 election.”