Victoria’s Criminal Justice Inquiry: Opportunity to end cycle between criminalisation and homelessness
25 Mar 2022
On 24 March 2022, the Victorian Government tabled the Final Report from Victoria’s Inquiry into Criminal Justice. In the face of record numbers of people entering the justice system, this report provides 100 timely recommendations that, if adopted by the Victorian Government, would reduce our current reliance on the justice system to respond to poverty and homelessness.
Through running Victoria’s specialist free legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, we have spent over 20 years holistically helping Victorians with poverty-related fines and charges. From our work, we know that relying on the justice system to respond to homelessness entrenches disadvantage and homelessness while burdening an already stretched justice system.
We welcome the Inquiry’s recommendations that aim to reduce justice-system interactions and divert people out of the criminal justice system, many of which directly reflected our own evidence and recommendations including:
1. Recognition of the role of integrated legal services in preventing people entering the criminal justice system
We know that social disadvantage and homelessness increase the risk of becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system. Integrated legal and social work assistance plays a critical role in preventing legal issues from escalating and diverting people out of the system as early as possible.
2. Reducing unnecessary police interactions
The Committee recognised that people experiencing homelessness are more likely to come to the attention of police, and reiterated the recommendations that came out of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness for a Protocol for Homeless People in Public Places to be developed and implemented by the Victorian Government. The government has yet to respond.
3. Reviewing the Summary Offences Act to reduce reliance on the justice system
When certain outdated poverty offences such as begging are still on the books, there will always be pressure to use them on vulnerable people. Reviewing the Summary Offences Act to decriminalise poverty offences such as begging is critical to ensure people are not needlessly trapped in the justice system.
4. Diverting people out of the criminal justice system
Access to the Criminal Justice Diversion Program provides highly vulnerable people with a therapeutic setting to appropriately address minor offences often directly linked to their experiences of housing insecurity.
The Committee recognised the need to increase access to diversion by reviewing the current requirement for police to consent to diversion and improving police practices.
5. Reforming the current bail laws
Through our casework, we regularly see the detrimental and disproportionate impact that the current bail laws have on Victorians experiencing or at risk of homelessness
The Committee recommended the Victorian Government review the current bail laws, however the government needs to undertake urgent bail reform now to ensure more vulnerable people are not unnecessarily imprisoned.
6. Access to housing for people in the criminal justice system
The Committee recognised that housing insecurity is closely linked to criminalisation, incarceration, and recidivism, and reiterated the recommendations from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness which included the need for access to housing and legal support as critical components in ensuring that people can access and maintain long-term housing post-release.
The Victorian Government to date has failed to respond to the Homelessness Inquiry’s Final Report. Adopting the recommendations from both the Parliamentary Inquiries into Homelessness and Criminal Justice will be critical in order to ensure a whole-of-system approach to reduce reliance on the criminal justice system to respond to homelessness.
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