My matter is for the Minister for Corrections.
Obviously, it’s difficult to say many positive things about Victoria’s very frustrating experience in relation to COVID-19.
It’s therefore a rare pleasure to talk today about one of the few benefits associated with the virus – and the accompanying restrictions and lockdowns with which we have all become so familiar.
Namely, that benefit is the dramatic fall in the amount of contraband that has been entering the State’s prisons during this period.
Whilst still a few months behind real time, the latest official ‘Drugs in Prisons’ reports for Victoria already point to a dramatic reduction, particularly in the frequency of positive drug tests, during those periods of the pandemic for which the numbers are now available.
Through March and, even more graphically, April and May, there have been very noticeable falls, especially in the percentage of positives among the monthly random drug tests – from 5.41% right down to 3.21%. That’s now the lowest percentage at any time in the past two years.
Similarly, there has also been a significant decrease in the percentage of positives for targeted drug tests – with the 6.21% for May 2020 representing the lowest mark ever recorded.
Naturally, all these changes have occurred, very tellingly, amid a period during which prison visiting arrangements have reverted from face-to-face contact to virtual interaction. Whilst it would be preferable if these figures were still lower even than they are now, it’s nonetheless incredibly heartening to see them falling so significantly.
We know that, for as long as there are abundant supplies of drugs, in particular, entering our prisons, then this will trigger countless other problems, too. It’s not only enormously troubling that many inmates still suffer from drug addictions (often right up to the end of their sentences and beyond), but also generally enormously consequential.
Given all of that background, the action I seek is that the Minister indicate whether the learnings from the COVID period in relation to the smuggling of contraband will be translated into more-permanent changes to policies and processes.
I seek that action because the changes of recent months have not only proven to be overwhelmingly in the community’s best interests in reducing the smuggling of contraband into prisons. Ultimately, they will have also improved the overall, long-term health and wellbeing of the prisoners themselves.
Indeed, if a reduction in the supply of contraband was to become a so-called ‘new normal’ from prison visits, it would be an outcome from COVID that would undoubtedly enjoy very widespread support.