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Pathway to Decarceration: Protecting Victorians from COVID-19 outbreaks

Law Institute of Victoria, 26 August 2020

The Federation of Community Legal Centres and the Law Institute of Victoria have released a nine-point plan to reduce the number of people in Victoria’s prison system to protect Victorians from further outbreaks of COVID-19.

The Pathway to Decarceration: A Justice System Response to COVID-19 outlines nine key areas in which the government could make changes that would reduce the number of people in prison.

High rates of community transmission in Victoria and positive COVID-19 tests of people in the prison system, including staff, has increased the risk of COVID-19 spreading like wildfire through prisons in Victoria.

It suggests that decarceration only be considered if a person does not pose any threat of harm to the Victorian community.  It recommends:

  • Establish a whole-of-government commitment
  • Encourage police to use discretion for low-level offences or bail offences
  • Provide non-custodial options for low-level offending
  • Use diversionary measures where appropriate
  • Bail reform
  • Provide supported accommodation and court integrated services for people without a home
  • Use of existing legislative measures
  • Greater use of parole
  • Provide adequate post-release housing

Co-Chair of the LIV Criminal Law Section Nicole Spicer said the pandemic had revealed many of the cracks in our society.

“Much of what was invisible has been exposed, be it the casualisation of the workforce, the abuses in the aged care sector or the plight of the homeless. It has also demonstrated to us clearly that the health of the most vulnerable and marginalised are integrally connected to the health and safety of our community as a whole. Whilst we are fortunate that, unlike in other countries in the world, we have so far avoided a major outbreak of COVID-19 in our prison systems, imprisoned persons remain extraordinarily vulnerable. There is still an opportunity for us to act to prevent significant and unnecessary harm to our prison population, and by extension their family members, those who work in prisons, and the community at large. The strategy prepared jointly by the FCLC and LIV provides a sensible pathway for action whilst there remains a window of opportunity”.

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Pathway to Decarceration: Protecting Victorians from COVID-19 outbreaks

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