The Victorian Greens have welcomed the Attorney-General’s commitment to reforming the state’s bail laws later this year, but warn the Government must act quickly and do more than ‘tinker around the edges’, to reduce the catastrophic over imprisonment of First Nations Victorians and prevent deaths in custody.
The Greens say the unworkable Bail Act must be simplified to ensure people are not imprisoned for minor offences unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community, as recommended by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) back in 2007.
Furthermore, they say that any proposed bail reforms must also be consistent with recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, to increase access to bail and only use prison “as a sanction of last resort”.
In 2017 and 2018 the Labor Government amended Victoria’s bail laws, so bail was presumptively denied to many people accused of extremely minor offences.
At the time Premier Andrews described these changes as “the toughest bail laws in our nation”, further boasting that there were more people on remand (unsentenced) than at any point in the state's history.
Currently, people on remand account for almost half of all Victorian prisoners, but perversely, the rates for remand are even higher for Aboriginal Victorians, women, and children, than for the non-Aboriginal men that are statistically responsible for most serious violent crime. There are more unsentenced than sentenced women in Victorian prisons.
Victorian Greens justice spokesperson, Dr Tim Read, said the over-representation of First Nations people and women in our prisons was a direct result of policies put into place by the Victorian Labor Government.
He said it was good to see the Government finally prepared to admit the significant harm their bail laws have caused, but also urged them to make bail reform meaningful, and a matter of priority when Parliament returns.
Alarmed that First Nations imprisonment had increased by 70 per cent in the first six years of the Andrews Government, in 2021 the Victorian Greens introduced a private member’s bail amendment bill, specifically to reduce pre-trial imprisonment of women, children and Aboriginal and vulnerable persons, consistent with the VLRC’s recommendations.
The Greens’ proposed bill was also consistent with calls from leading justice and First Nation’s stakeholders, including the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS).
Quotes attributable to Victorian Greens justice spokesperson, Dr Tim Read:
“Victoria’s bail laws imprison First Nations people, despite being found guilty of no crime, effectively for no other reason than their own disadvantage.
“The government has known for years that a person without access to stable housing, social capital and legal literacy, such as women escaping family violence, will likely be remanded in prison for weeks or months even when charged with the most minor of offences.
“First Nations people in particular are being imprisoned at an appallingly high rate in Victoria, as a direct result of policies put in place by this Victorian Labor Government.
“We know what needs to be done to reduce the record incarceration rates of First Nations people in Victoria, it is in the Royal Commission report of 30 years ago, and was in our bill two years ago, this government just hasn’t had the political will to do it.
“The Victorian Greens genuinely hope this year is a turning point, and will support meaningful evidence-based government reform on bail.”