VICTORIA’S new bail laws are having an impact with many of Ballarat’s alleged worst offenders staying in prison before their court hearing.
New bail laws which came into effect on July 1 mean police can remand a person in custody for up to 48 hours, until a court can hear their application for bail.
But the measures introduced have also strengthened the tests for people to be granted bail, with judges encouraged to take more account of a person's potential risk to the community, which is putting extra pressure on the corrections system.
As of August 1, Victoria had a prison population of 7836, of which 7232 were male and 604 female.
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A Corrections Victoria spokesperson said more than a third (36 per cent) of the state’s male prisoners were on remand, almost double the proportion of unsentenced prisoners in the justice system four years ago.
“This is a significant increase on the previous decade, where remand prisoner numbers remained stable at about 18-20 per cent of the overall population,” the spokesperson said.
“The growth in remand prisoners is largely due to reforms that have made it harder for offenders to get bail, as well as an increase in police numbers and a rising population.”
The new laws have meant that a number of repeat offenders have either chosen not to apply for bail or have found it more difficult, or pleaded guilty.
The state government said it was working to fix overcrowding in the system.
Minister for Corrections Gayle Tierney said the state government was committed to more prison beds to cope with the influx of prisoners.
The state’s newest prison at Ravenhall began taking prisoners in November last year with an extra 300 beds expected to be opened by the end of this year. A 700-bed maximum security prison in Lara will open in 2022.
“Our record investment in thousands of extra police, and tougher bail and sentencing laws means more people are in prison - and we make no apologies for that,” Ms Tierney said.
“We’ve opened nearly 2000 new beds — with more than 1200 more beds to come — and added more than 520 prison staff.”
Each prisoner costs the state $127,000 a year on average, Victoria’s Auditor-General has calculated, meaning the current prison population costs more than $800 million per year to taxpayers.
Police said there was no doubt the new laws were having an effect.
“Our intelligence is showing that the bail amendments, along with our focus on recidivist offending, are having an impact on local crime rates across the state,” a police spokesperson said.
Regional Superintendent Jenny Wilson also told The Courier increased arrests and targeted operations had contributed to the squeeze.
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