Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:56): My question is for the Attorney-General. Back on 7 April 2022 I asked the Attorney a question on the subject of women on remand, and in her reply she stated:
… in relation to remand, there are too many women on remand. I completely agree with that.
As we know, remand numbers are directly related to bail laws. They are two sides of the same coin. Someone is only remanded in custody if they are refused bail. As this state’s first law officer, the fact that there are too many women on remand is an issue that the government can correct via the reform of bail laws. So my question is: will you?
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (11:56): I thank Ms Patten for her question and her ongoing interest in this area, particularly women who are incarcerated. I will refer the matter obviously to the Attorney-General for her response.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:57): Thank you, Minister. I note that we have got section 3A of the Bail Act 1977, which sets out matters the court must take into account for a determination in relation to an Aboriginal person, and similarly section 3B, which sets out considerations for determination in relation to a child. Despite this, Aboriginal women are the fastest growing cohort of people going into our corrections facilities, and certainly many of us who are on the inquiry into this issue note that there are 23 000 children in Victoria affected by incarcerated parents. So by way of supplementary, given the Bail Act already distinguishes between different people in this way, has the Attorney considered new laws that would do the same for women?
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (11:58): Thank you, Ms Patten, for your question. I think that you would appreciate that the Attorney-General does have a keen eye on these issues. I am not in a position to make any further statements at this point in time, but I will refer the supplementary to the Attorney-General.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 7/6/22
A written response was ordered for both the substantive and supplementary questions. Written response received:
I thank the member for her question and acknowledge and appreciate the ongoing interest she has shown in these issues, especially as Chair of the Legal and Social Issues Committee.
Like many areas of criminal law, Victoria’s bail laws must strike a balance between important but often competing objectives. Our bail laws are designed to maximise the safety of the community and persons affected by crime to the greatest extent possible, while at the same time taking account of the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty. These objectives and others are reflected in the guiding principles set out in section 1B of the Bail Act 1977.
I note the member’s interest in the specific matters that must be taken into account when making bail decisions in relation to children and Aboriginal people. The Bail Act also lists the matters decision makers must take into account in all cases, where relevant, when deciding whether or not to grant bail to an accused person. These include matters such as the accused person’s personal circumstances, any special vulnerabilities of the accused (including being Aboriginal or having a mental illness), the length of time the accused is likely to spend in custody if bail is refused, and the likely sentence if the accused should be found guilty of the offence they have been charged with. These surrounding circumstances are broad, and would already enable bail decision makers to have appropriate regard to particular issues relating to accused women.
I stand by my commitment, in response to the member’s question on 7 April 2022, to continue to look at the issue of the number of women on remand and the different ways in which we can address this. Through the advocacy of justice stakeholders and my discussions with them, I am regularly updated on these issues and the experience of women in our justice system.
Community safety is appropriately at the forefront of all bail decisions. While responses to serious and violent offending have been strengthened, including in our bail laws, at the same time the Victorian Government has invested in reducing reoffending and keeping non-violent, low risk people out of the justice system. We are doing this through early intervention and diversion and by addressing individual needs and underlying offending behaviour.
In recognition of the many complex factors that contribute to offending, funding has been provided to develop and expand programs, including the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP), and the CISP Remand Outreach Pilot.
The 2019-20 Budget included $93.2 million for programs and services focused on keeping high risk people out of the justice system, including women and young people. This investment included $20 million to reduce the incarceration of women, including for programs to improve employment opportunities and reconnect women with their families; improve access to housing; mental health services in women’s prisons; and initiatives aimed at reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal women in prison, including expanded legal and housing support.
Reducing incarceration rates of women is a priority for this Government, which is why we are supporting Women and Mentoring with a new investment in this year’s budget of $3.63 million over four years. This will support an estimated 100 women in mentoring matches across Melbourne in 2022-23 alone, increasing to 180 women in 2025-26.
Since 2018, the Government has provided $85.3 million to support implementation of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja: Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (Phase 4), including $33.08 million provided in the 2021-22 State Budget. This has enabled the development and expansion of culturally relevant assistance to Aboriginal women across community, courts and custodial settings. Services for Aboriginal women supported under the Agreement include the following bail support and diversionary programs:
- Koori Women’s Diversion: intensive and holistic case management and practical support to ensure Aboriginal women have access to the services they need.
- A Women’s Bail Project: a new culturally and gender specific support program for Aboriginal women involved in the correctional system to obtain bail and avoid remand.
The government will continue to explore ways in which the justice system can better respond to and support those who engage in lower-level offending behaviour, particularly where this is linked to poverty, financial distress, drug and alcohol dependence, mental health or other underlying vulnerabilities.
Jaclyn Symes MP
Minister for Emergency Services