Victorian jails are in crisis with inmates at greater risk of physical abuse, sexual abuse and self-harm because of overcrowding, a damning ombudsman’s report says.
But Corrections Minister Ed O’Donoghue has warned it could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion to fully comply with the ombudsman’s recommendations.
The report found that the government’s tougher sentencing and parole laws had compounded overcrowding, while warning prison deaths and violence were likely to increase because a new men’s prison was not due to be opened until 2017.
Improvements to existing jails were a long way off, the report warned.
The report also found that 1236 of the state’s jail cells (38 per cent) did not comply with Corrections Victoria’s own guidelines on hanging points, pointing out that there were no immediate plans to fix the problem.
While there had been 43 deaths in custody in the past decade, six prisoners had taken their own lives in the past six years alone, nearly all in cells that did not comply with safety guidelines, according to the report which was tabled in parliament on Wednesday.
“There is a crisis in overcrowded prison and police cells caused by inadequate beds in the Victorian prison system,” the report said.
“As a result of overcrowding, people detained in custody in Victoria face a greater risk of harm than at any time in the past decade.
“Prisoners are placed in overcrowded and at times sub-standard conditions with a risk of physical and sexual assault, and with limited access to appropriate health care services.”
Mr O’Donoghue said the government inherited a neglected prison and parole system when it took power in 2010 but had added 980 new prison beds, with 2600 more to come.
Corrections Victoria had adopted or was implementing most of the recommendations, but Mr O’Donoghue would not say if any others would be considered.
“If all the recommendations made by the ombudsman were fully implemented, the cost to taxpayers, I am advised, would be in excess of $1 billion,” he said.
A spokesman later said proposed regular prison reviews by an independent consultant were unnecessary.
Opposition corrections spokesman Martin Pakula did not answer questions about the former Labor government’s role in the system’s failings, blaming the Liberal government’s sentencing and parole crackdown.
“The government likes to beat its chest about how it’s tough on crime, but because it’s so dysfunctional it didn’t give any thought to what kind of investment you need to make in the system before you decide to lock up thousands of extra people,” he said.
Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards said the state of prisons was undermining community safety.
“While prison is a punishment, it is totally unacceptable that the basic human rights and dignity of people in prison are being breached,” she said.
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