Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:05): My question is for the Attorney-General. The Crime Statistics Agency has shown that between 2012 and 2018 the number of women entering prison increased from 333 to 825, with a percentage increase in women entering prison on remand and a percentage decrease in women entering under sentence. In fact the criminal justice inquiry also heard that 70 to 90 per cent of incarcerated women have experienced sexual abuse, family violence and trauma.
Remand numbers post the 2018 Bail Act 1977 changes have worsened still, showing that the bail reforms predicated on protecting women are actually working against many. So my question to the Attorney-General is: will she reform the bail laws to reduce the number of women in prison?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:06): I thank Ms Patten for her question. It is a question that we have had some exploration of in this chamber. As we know, bail reform as a result of some tragic incidents in this state, to ensure that public safety was at the forefront of bail decisions, was introduced.
We certainly do not make any apologies for ensuring that community safety is at the forefront of these decisions. It is an unwelcome trend of more women being incarcerated.
I acknowledge a lot of these offences are at the lower end of offending, and it is important that we have program support, housing, counselling et cetera to ensure that we can assist women to avoid coming into contact with the justice system, and that is certainly a focus of ours.
In relation to bail reform and the impact on women in particular, that is a matter that is brought to my attention regularly through community legal centres and the Aboriginal Justice Forum—just two that I have these conversations with. I have given a commitment to these organisations that I will continue to look at this issue. There is no announcement for me to make in relation to reform, but obviously I think, as I have said in this chamber many times, the justice system is always in reform in one way or another, so these are important issues that I continue to keep myself abreast of.
But this is, as always, I think similar to my responses in relation to children—that keeping people out of prison is certainly the number one objective. And I would note that there are fewer women in prison right now than there were this time last year.
I think it is a reduction of about 20 per cent. But we are seeing some trends in particular cohorts. We need to understand why, and we need to continue to address those underlying causes of crime in the first instance, as well as keeping abreast and talking to people about future reforms of the system.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:09): Thank you for your response, Minister. You are absolutely right that community safety is at the forefront, but when we are sending women to jail, quite often because they do not have a home to live in, I think we may have got the balance wrong. Ironically those women come out of prison probably in more dangerous predicaments than they were when they entered the prisons.
You mentioned counselling and you mentioned housing in your substantive answer. I am wondering if you can provide more information, if not about changes to bail reform then about changes to procedures that may keep women out of jail or may enable more women to get bail.
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:10): I thank Ms Patten for her question and ongoing interest in these important matters. I would take issue with the statement that women are imprisoned just because they do not have a home. That would be a very unfortunate state of affairs, and I would certainly take action to remedy that.
But in relation to remand, there are too many women on remand. I completely agree with that. In relation to all of the services and programs, it is a very broad question because it crosses multiple portfolios, but we have the Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee, which Juliana Addison chairs, which is all about looking at issues that contribute to why women might get caught up in the justice system and how they can avoid being incarcerated and the services, including the ones I referred to.
Perhaps, if you are interested, we could get you a little bit more information coming out of that committee, because that is all focused on ensuring that women’s outcomes are better through corrections and justice.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 7/4/22