MEDIA RELEASE 19 March 2021

Today the Victorian Government made two announcements celebrating prison construction. It is their sixth media release regarding prison construction works in the last six months and highlights the alarming expansion of the carceral system in Victoria. 

This is nothing to celebrate.

Today’s announcements come after National Close the Gap day yesterday and a week after the announcement of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. It is also a week after Corrections Victoria announced yet another Aboriginal death in custody. The growing prison capacity in Victoria will be disproportionately filled with Aboriginal people. Every small step forward for Aboriginal people, is quickly followed by multiple steps backwards.

The latest Corrections Victoria data shows that:

  • The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons was higher at the end of February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (770 vs 710);
  • The number of women in prison was higher at the end February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (416 vs 395);
  • The number of unsentenced people in prison was higher at the end February 2021 than 31 July 2020 (3019 vs 2409).

We know that many of the Aboriginal women who are incarcerated are survivors of violence and trauma. They often end up in the justice system because there is a lack of Government support to help them rebuild their lives. 

The Victorian Government says this is a job creation investment. These construction jobs will end very soon and the Government will be left with more prison cells to fill. They should have invested this money in emergency accommodation, public housing, education and community services instead. 

Quote attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 

“More prison cells means more Aboriginal people in prison and more Aboriginal deaths in custody.” 

“The Victorian Government will not Close the Gap by giving with one hand and locking us up with the other.” 

Quote attributable to Meena Singh, Legal Director of the Human Rights Law Centre: 

“The Victorian Government should be working towards closing, rather than expanding, prisons. Prisons don’t rehabilitate people or create safer communities, they only serve to compound and exacerbate disadvantage, which is a contributing factor of why people are incarcerated.” 

“Instead of building more and more prisons that harm the people being warehoused in them – which are disproportionately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – the Victorian Government could be reforming laws that trap people in the prison system, like the punitive bail laws, and be creating jobs that actually help people by investing in community-driven, evidence-based responses.” 

Quote attributable to Karen Fletcher, Senior Lawyer Fitzroy Legal Service 

“Why is the Victorian Government building 106 new cells at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre?” 

“Last Friday, 12 March, there were 384 women in the maximum-security prison, which has capacity for 604.  Why does the government think they need to double the number of women in prison by 2023?” 

“This needs a serious rethink.” 

“Victoria desperately needs more public housing, support for struggling families to raise their kids and community mental health services. Job creation is important but we would prefer to work to build a better, fairer state than to build more prison cells.”

Media inquiries

Patrick Cook
Senior Communications and Media Officer
pcook@vals.org.au
0417 003 910

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.