March 22, 2022
Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (19:49): (1819)
My adjournment is to the Minister for Corrections (Hon. Natalie Hutchins MP):
The action I seek is for the minister to confirm whether the Department of Justice and Community Safety is actively promoting redundancies to corrections officers, and if so, what the impact on the future capacity of our prisons will be as a result.
I am aware that our correctional facilities are currently running well under capacity. The monthly prisoner and offender statistics published by the Department of Justice and Community Safety recorded 6660 prisoners in the system.
The forecast in 2020–21 as detailed in the Department of Justice and Community Safety annual report was up to 8440, so by my calculations we are running at around 1700 beds under capacity. We know that a key issue is the backlog in our court system and the associated delays in matters progressing through to sentencing as they would in a pandemic-free environment.
Of course, COVID has had an impact on our correctional facilities, just as COVID has impacted every facet of public service and private enterprise over the last two years. There is a bill before this house that aims to help reduce the backlog of our courts and speed up the system through the re-introduction of judge-alone trials, and I certainly hope that that works. The Attorney-General could also consider trialling the suspension of the test for committal for the same purpose, particularly as this has the support of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the victims of crime commissioner.
I will note also that correctional facilities tend to run three or four weeks behind the community in terms of seeing the winding back of any restrictions coming into effect within a prison, and this is having a further impact on the overall system.
I have spoken in Parliament a few times about my opposition to the granting of emergency management days to prisoners simply for the inconvenience of COVID. I am aware of a very serious, depraved offender whose eligibility for parole was brought forward by a full week as a result of emergency management days to the despair and dismay of the victim. I can only hope that this offender’s parole is denied. I will put on the record again my firm view that discounting a sentence through emergency management days should not be applied to serious offenders, nor should the impact of COVID be a consideration for a diversionary sentence or granting parole.
Back to the action I seek in this adjournment, I mentioned at the start that I am aware of redundancy packages being offered to corrections staff, and this seems to be a relatively new proposal. Redundancy packages are a usual part of workforce planning but usually because a position is no longer required. With our correctional facilities operating anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent under capacity, but the forecast not changing as far as I am aware, if redundancies are being actively canvassed to correctional workers, I am wondering why.