Today the Victorian Government made two announcements celebrating prison construction. It is their sixth media release regarding prison construction works in the last six months and highlights the alarming expansion of the carceral system in Victoria.

This is nothing to celebrate.

Today’s announcements come after National Close the Gap day yesterday and a week after the announcement of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. It is also a week after Corrections Victoria announced yet another Aboriginal death in custody. The growing prison capacity in Victoria will be disproportionately filled with Aboriginal people. Every small step forward for Aboriginal people, is quickly followed by multiple steps backwards.

The latest Corrections Victoria data shows that:

  • The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons was higher at the end of February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (770 vs 710);
  • The number of women in prison was higher at the end February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (416 vs 395);
  • The number of unsentenced people in prison was higher at the end February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (3019 vs 2409).

We know that many of the Aboriginal women who are incarcerated are survivors of violence and trauma. They often end up in the justice system because there is a lack of Government support to help them rebuild their lives.

The Victorian Government says this is a job creation investment. These construction jobs will end very soon and the Government will be left with more prison cells to fill. They should have invested this money in emergency accommodation, public housing, education and community services instead.

Quote attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“More prison cells means more Aboriginal people in prison and more Aboriginal deaths in custody.”

“The Victorian Government will not Close the Gap by giving with one hand and locking us up with the other.”

Quote attributable to Meena Singh, Legal Director of the Human Rights Law Centre:

“The Victorian Government should be working towards closing, rather than expanding, prisons. Prisons don’t rehabilitate people or create safer communities, they only serve to compound and exacerbate disadvantage, which is a contributing factor of why people are incarcerated.”

“Instead of building more and more prisons that harm the people being warehoused in them – which are disproportionately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – the Victorian Government could be reforming laws that trap people in the prison system, like the punitive bail laws, and be creating jobs that actually help people by investing in community-driven, evidence-based responses.”

Quote attributable to Karen Fletcher, Senior Lawyer Fitzroy Legal Service:

“Why is the Victorian Government building 106 new cells at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre?”

“Last Friday, 12 March, there were 384 women in the maximum-security prison, which has capacity for 604.  Why does the government think they need to double the number of women in prison by 2023?”

“This needs a serious rethink.”

“Victoria desperately needs more public housing, support for struggling families to raise their kids and community mental health services. Job creation is important but we would prefer to work to build a better, fairer state than to build more prison cells.”

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