The Victorian Greens will introduce a bill to Parliament next week that would reduce the number of First Nations people held in custody in Victoria.
The Bail Amendment (Reducing Pre-trial Imprisonment of Women, Aboriginal, and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2020 would simplify the state’s strict bail laws, creating a system that grants offenders bail unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community.
In 2017 and 2018 the Andrews Government tightened our bail laws significantly, so that bail was denied to many people accused of minor offences. This decision was made after a hasty review and has led to countless disadvantaged people being locked up for minor offences before they are sentenced.
People on remand (unsentenced) currently account for a record 44 per cent of all Victorian prisoners, up from 24 per cent five years ago. And there are currently more unsentenced than sentenced women in Victorian prisons.
The Greens’ bill would get rid of the ‘reverse onus’ tests and instead reinstate a simplified test in which the prosecution would need to show an accused person was an unacceptable risk to the community and shouldn’t be bailed.
Victorian Greens spokesperson for justice, Dr Tim Read, said the state government’s current bail laws were filling our prisons and disproportionately impacting First Nations people, women, the homeless and those with mental illness.
He added that Victorians shouldn’t be locked up for stealing an ice-cream, only to wait weeks for a court date where their case is ultimately dismissed.
If the government is serious about ending the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal communities, it needs to address the role it has played in the problem.
Quotes attributable to Victorian Greens spokesperson for justice, Dr Tim Read:
“Victoria’s bail laws are punishing disadvantaged Victorians, especially First Nations people.
“When the government decided to tighten our state’s bail laws in 2017, they didn’t stop to think how those reforms might impact communities already overrepresented in our prison system.
“Victoria’s ‘tough on crime’ politics has been toughest on the poorest and most vulnerable, who are often imprisoned for very minor offences.
“Jailing vulnerable people for a few days or weeks for non-violent offences doesn’t make us safer. In fact it increases reoffending.
“We know what needs to be done to reduce the imprisonment rates of First Nations and other disadvantaged people in Victoria, this government just hasn’t had the political will to do it.
“That’s why the Greens will introduce a bill later this month to fix our draconian bail laws. Instead of forcing low-level offenders to justify why they should receive bail, they’ll be entitled to it unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community.”