Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:23): I am pleased to rise to speak to Mr Grimley’s motion. I think, following on from Mr O’Donohue, for the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into the justice system: challenge accepted. You are right: the system is broken, and we do need to repair it and we do need to explore all ways of doing that. We need to understand fundamentally why people are in our justice system, what has caused them to get there. We know a significant number of people in our prison and justice system will come from five postcodes in Victoria. We know that this is about disadvantage and it is about trying to do things differently and certainly looking at prevention rather than, as we constantly say, dealing with these issues by putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
Mr Grimley’s motion today is looking at expanding electronic monitoring for offenders and introducing 24/7 alcohol monitoring as a sentencing option. From the briefings and certainly going to the motion that Mr Grimley has put on the notice paper, the Hinch party would like to see a trial of this in Victoria.
At the outset I welcome the thorough approach that Mr Grimley has taken to this motion. We were provided, along with I think all of you in here, briefings and plenty of information that explained the rationale and the reasoning for Mr Grimley putting forward this motion. And Mr O’Donohue is right: the fundamental base of this is about reducing recidivism. I think that that is honourable and it is something that I certainly deeply care about, because as I mentioned, the system is failing. It is failing its victims. And one of the areas it is really inadequate on is alcohol and other drug treatment.
We know that our prisons now are almost de facto institutions for people experiencing mental health issues, issues with trauma, alcohol and drug dependence and homelessness, as we heard in our homelessness inquiry. In the last budget we put more money into prisons than we did into housing, so we really are looking at housing our disadvantaged population in prisons rather than in public housing. If you look at the IBAC report released yesterday, again, it shows that certainly our corrections system has huge problems. We have got prison officers bringing in contraband, stealing from prisoners and selling it on the market. Prisons are not safe, especially for someone with mental health issues, so any policy that diverts people away from them should be considered.
I certainly think alcohol monitoring of offenders can be another tool in our toolbox for repeat offenders. We know that well over half of prisoners who enter into our prison system have got alcohol and other drug issues. We also know that over half of them actually have mental health issues and for many of them that has actually been diagnosed. Mr Grimley has made a very strong argument for electronic monitoring, but I do not think it is a panacea to recidivism by any means. Whether it is a cost-effective way to reduce recidivism, I think that is worth investigating.
I must say that I was surprised when we reached out to some stakeholders about this motion, and we reached out in particular to the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education—FARE. They were extraordinarily, emphatically opposed to this, which I must say I was not actually expecting. They said the devices are stigmatising, they breach human rights, they are expensive and they are ineffective; and the technology is unreliable, it does not reduce reoffending, it does not reduce prison populations, it increases incarceration and it does not treat problematic alcohol use.
Mr Grimley mentioned the trial in New Zealand of ankle bracelets as part of effectively their drug court over there, and they found that 32 per cent of offenders committed a crime while wearing the bracelet. The reconviction rate generally for offenders on community sentence orders is around 25 per cent, so they are actually seeing higher rates of reoffending. Look, this was a very small study, but it probably just shows that this is not a magic bullet. I will note that Mr Grimley does not attest that this is a magic bullet either, that he also agrees that this is another tool in our toolbox, as I said.
I note that Mr Grimley also in his briefings to us said that any trial would be a voluntary trial, so the offender would agree voluntarily to enter into the trial. But it was interesting when FARE reported to us that the largest group amongst the interviewed offenders in the New Zealand trial explained the testing had no effect on their substance use because they had already made the decision to abstain from drugs and alcohol. And I wonder, in a voluntary circumstance, whether that is who you are going to get. If it does help someone in maintaining their abstinence from alcohol, if that is what they want to do, then it should not be dismissed.
I think the evidence is out, which is why the motion asking for more consideration of this is welcome, and I certainly would hope that the justice inquiry is going to get an opportunity to do that as well. But may I also say: treatment, treatment, treatment. VADA, the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, said that even if we were to go down this path of drug testing as part of sentencing, then we need far greater treatment services. The wait times for treatment are absolutely appalling, and this will not necessarily be a cheaper option. I note that there has also been an investigation into the notion of using electronic monitoring in Queensland. The Queensland Human Rights Commission stated that electronic monitoring breaches the human rights of privacy, that the lack of controls in how the information is gathered is being used by governments and that it leads to stigmatisation and there is a possibility of vigilantism.
This Saturday is Support. Don’t Punish day, and this goes to the heart of what we are doing. Certainly if you look at the Sentencing Act 1991, punishment is just one of those objectives, but when we look at the recidivism rates of the people we punish, that is not working. We need to be looking at how we can keep our communities safe, how we can rehabilitate people and how we can provide the safety nets that people need so that they do not reoffend. Electronic monitoring and these types of bracelets may be one of those things, but I would say employment would be one of the major solutions. We know that employment is the biggest protector against brushing against the justice system. We know education is another protector and we know housing is a massive protector. In some ways, once we get all the things that we know in order, then maybe we should start looking at things that we know less about again. I certainly do not oppose this motion, and I thank Mr Grimley for raising it. I think it has certainly enabled me to look at this issue. We are all very busy and I know we do not get opportunities to do free reading, but I did learn a lot in considering this motion. I really welcome this being part of the discussion of the justice inquiry, and I will leave it at that.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr Gimley’s Motion 23/6/21
See motion here.