I rise to make a contribution on the Auditor-General’s report into prisoner transportation, which was tabled on 11 June. Each year in Victoria a minimum of 58 000 prisoners are moved.
The reasons for their transportation include to accommodate changes in a prisoner’s risk profile, to maximise prison capacity, to attend health and welfare programs and to attend court.
The Auditor-General assessed whether the transportation of prisoners in Victoria is effective, efficient and economical. His conclusion was:
- There is no overarching and coordinated oversight of prisoner transportation across the justice system.
Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police do not collect information about the total number and cost of prisoner movements, so no constructive analysis could be undertaken of cost efficiency.
However, it is clear that the transportation of prisoners is yet another aspect of the adverse effects of the government’s narrow-minded approach to crime and the criminal justice system.
Prisoner numbers have been directly affected by this government. There are now more prisoners and therefore greater demand for prisoner movement.
The report details that on 20 February 2014 there were 5892 prisoners in custody compared with 5200 prisoners in custody on the same day in 2013.
The government’s changes to the parole process, the abolition of some suspended sentences and the increases in average sentence lengths are all factors identified by the Auditor-General as contributing to the increase in the prisoner population.
The report notes the ‘significant pressure from a large growth in prison numbers’ has increased the number of remanded and convicted prisoners being detained in police cells. The Department of Justice committed to keeping these numbers below 100.
However, on 20 February 2014 there were 261 prisoners being held in police cells compared with 128 prisoners held on the same day in 2013, an increase of 104 per cent. The number of prisoners being held in police cells reached an all-time high on 18 November 2013 with 372 prisoners.
The report states that between September and December 2013, 824 movements of prisoners to court were cancelled due to capacity in police cells being reached — that is, just under seven prisoners a day were refused access to court. In addition, Victoria Police has admitted that each day up to 500 police officers are taken off the beat to manage overcrowding in police cells.
While police are being sent to manage overcrowding in cells, they are not on the street protecting the community.
In my electorate police numbers on the street are down by 19 per cent in Geelong.
The Victorian Ombudsman has also expressed concern about the current state of affairs in prisons. In a report entitled Investigation into Deaths and Harm in Custody, which was tabled on 26 March 2014, the Ombudsman warned that:
- the likelihood of prisoners being physically or sexually assaulted or self-harming leading to deaths is greater now than at any time in recent years
The Auditor-General’s findings on prisoner transportation explain that the governance, planning, risk management and monitoring processes focus on each area separately rather than the transport system as a whole and that the cost of transportation per prisoner has increased by 106 per cent.
Corrections Victoria paid $822 000 in performance-linked payments over four years even though the incentives did not always enhance transport performance.
Given that each prisoner costs taxpayers $100 000 per year on average, the increase in travel costs has put additional financial strain on the system.
In conclusion, the Auditor-General’s report highlights another example of the significant negative effects this government has had on the criminal justice system. The government’s narrow-minded, simplistic approach to crime takes no account of the flow-on effects within courts, prisons and agencies.