Corrections Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2017
21 September 2017
Ms RYAN (Euroa) — I also rise today to make a contribution on the Corrections Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017. The bill before the house today is really quite a broad bill, as other speakers have noted. It covers eight broad areas and it is in essence the fairly regular tidy up of the Corrections Act 1986 that comes to Parliament.
There are three key areas that I would like to focus on today in my contribution to debate, the first being the strengthening of the operation of the corrections system by creating a new offence of bringing contraband onto prison property. I had a bit of a look at the items that are currently prohibited in all prisons in Victoria. Many of them are fairly logical and things that most people would acknowledge should never be found in a prison — things like weapons, drugs and drug-related items or paraphernalia, and explosive substances and devices. Since smoking was banned in all Victorian prisons in July 2015 tobacco and tobacco-smoking accessories are now officially considered contraband in prisons. The one on the list that caught my attention was equipment that may aid escape. I think that is a fairly logical inclusion on the list; we certainly do not want prisoners to have anything that might help them escape. Other items include mobile phones, portable digital media players, USB storage devices and the like. As the law currently stands, any visitor who is found introducing contraband is banned from all prison visits for a minimum of 12 months. I think it is an aberration in the current law and really quite extraordinary that at the moment whilst possession of some contraband items is subject to fines for the prisoners themselves, it is not technically deemed an offence. This bill introduces that offence.
The bill introduces two separate categories of contraband. There is category 1 contraband, which is at the more serious end of the equation — again, explosives, firearms, weapons, drugs, child exploitation material and the like — and possession of those things is punishable by a maximum of two years in jail. Then there are category 2 items, which include things like unauthorised prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia, electronic storage or recording equipment and electronic devices that are not communication capable. Under this bill possession of those items will be punishable by a maximum of 12 months imprisonment.
Over the past 12 months there have been an extraordinary number of contraband items detected by Corrections Victoria staff. I heard someone earlier in the debate refer to the legislation earlier this year which banned drones from prison precincts because we have seen some more creative elements of the community seeking to drop contraband items to prisoners via drones. In the last 12 months or so we have seen more drugs, weapons and alcohol smuggled into Victorian prisons than in previous years. We have publicly stated that we believe the government should not only introduce this offence for prisoners caught with contraband but also increase the punishment for anyone who is caught smuggling weapons and drugs into prisons.
I also want to refer to Dhurringile Prison, which is in my electorate of Euroa. An article back in February said one in 10 inmates in Victorian prisons are failing substance tests. I think that is a quite extraordinary number, and it does show that the system needs to be significantly tightened up. At the time Corrections Victoria data showed that seven of the state's jails — Dhurringile was included in that list — are failing to meet drug rate benchmarks. I think that is indicative of a government that has lost control of the corrections system, and it is something that we need to pay a great deal more attention to.
The second aspect of this bill which I wish to mention today is the creation of a new security officer role for the Adult Parole Board of Victoria to deal with the security incidents which we have seen occur at their premises in Carlton. I understand that these changes have actually come about at the request of the adult parole board to improve the safety of their members who are attending hearings or interviews. Earlier in the debate the member for Box Hill circulated an amendment which I wish to speak in support of. That amendment substitutes the words 'security officer' with 'protective services officer' (PSO). We have circulated that amendment in response to concerns from the Police Association Victoria, which believes that PSOs will actually provide a greater level of security for the adult parole board.
The secondary class of security officer that this bill creates will only be armed with capsicum spray, batons and handcuffs, whereas if our proposed amendment passes, there will be protective services officers armed with handguns. That is an improvement because it will provide a greater level of security for the adult parole board. The police association, in our consultation with them about this bill, have noted that they were not consulted in its development, which I put on the record as being somewhat of a concern.
The third element I wanted to touch on is the trial of a paid prisoner employment scheme that this bill creates. The provisions will see eligible prisoners drawn from the Judy Lazarus Transition Centre. I understand that the pilot that is being put in place, the trial, is relatively small — it will only involve 20 to 25 prisoners participating in the first instance. It was an idea that was floated back in 2015 by the Victorian Ombudsman, who in her investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria suggested that paid prisoner employment schemes should be implemented in Victoria. Whilst we are supportive of those provisions, we have moved amendments to see prisoners participating in that program pay 20 per cent of their wage to the state in recognition of the huge costs to the state to house prisoners during their term. I again encourage the government to consider that amendment and vote in favour of it.
In my own electorate of Dhurringile, a number of the prisoners participate in community schemes. I think they are called community assistance schemes whereby they go out and actually undertake work on behalf of the community. That is very well received in my area and something I would certainly like to see continue. That work is not paid work but I think it does a lot, particularly for those low-security prisoners who are housed at Dhurringile who are on the cusp of transitioning back into society.
With those few comments I wish to commend the bill to the house. I do have concerns about the state of the corrections system at present. I note that we have had four corrections ministers in less than three years, which is quite extraordinary. We have seen a corrections system here in Victoria that has been plagued with problems. Again I refer to the huge level of contraband that we have been seeing come through the corrections system of late. But I do believe that most of the amendments moved in this bill are sensible, and I would strongly encourage the government to look favourably on the amendments that the coalition has circulated to this bill.