September 21, 2017  |  Second reading

Corrections Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2017

MR HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am very pleased to add my contribution to the Corrections Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2017 before the house. Although I would love to hear the member for Dandenong too, I am pleased to make my comments. As we have heard from other people who have spoken on this bill, this bill focuses on two areas: essentially making our prison system safer for prisoners and for those working inside the prison system, and focusing on making our communities safer through procedures operated through the Adult Parole Board of Victoria, and also ensuring that the adult parole board has appropriate security in dealing with parolees as they make their applications for parole and as they are adjudicated upon.

First to prisons. We know there are amendments in this bill to increase maximum penalties to deter possession and use of contraband items in prisons. It creates a new role for the adult parole board, and it also creates a new role for corrections staff that provide security at the adult parole board.

I will talk first about the issue inside prisons in terms of the types of contraband. We are looking at two areas of contraband that prisoners might have. The first relates to weapons and a range of explosives, firearms and material such as that. The second relates to drugs and other contraband in that category. We are toughening up penalties for prisoners who are apprehended in possession of category 1 and category 2 items, and the nature of the items will determine how penalties will proceed.

In regard to category 1 items, possession can carry a penalty of up to two years in prison, and that includes things, as well as firearms and weapons, that we might recognise as a community are serious items for prisoners to have. It also includes things such as mobile phones or electronic communication devices because these can compromise security in prisons, and of course communicating with the outside world in unplanned ways can cause significant problems. As well there is the ability to take photos with mobile phones. They are all added in category 1, as are drugs.

Included in category 2 are unauthorised prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia, electronic storage equipment and perhaps less serious equipment, but also things that prisoners should not have. This legislation toughens up that area, and makes clearer the procedures that should take place if prisoners are found offending.

I also want to add that, in regard to the parole board issues, it is certainly an issue that has been pursued significantly by this government. We know that we had the Callinan report completed early in our term of government, and this government, the Andrews Labor government, have worked to recognise all of the recommendations from the Callinan review of parole to ensure that we bring forward legislation at appropriate times to tighten up adult parole.

It was very interesting this week, wearing my hat as the chair of the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee, where we have been undertaking an inquiry in regard to a range of drug law reform issues. We had His Honour Judge Peter Couzens, who is the chairperson of the adult parole board, speak to our committee just this last Monday. It was very interesting to hear from him his explanation of how parole is so much tighter and better controlled than it was four years ago. We have seen, for example, in the violent offences area that there has been a significant reduction in the number of people who are getting parole in those areas, down from 60 four years ago to 22, down to 13 and lower than that this year. Clearly the message from the experiences in the community has led to a complete review of the parole board, and it has been the Andrews Labor government that has led on the issue of tightening up parole. His Honour Judge Peter Couzens recognised that the parole board is now working in a much sounder way to evaluate parole issues and to ensure that only appropriate people get parole and that when they are out on parole they are appropriately supported.

There has been a significant addition in terms of the way support is offered to people who are out there on parole. He advises that last year, for example, 75 per cent of the parolees who were discharged were able to continue through on their parole without cancellation. That means that the work of the parole board is ensuring that more and more people who do get out on parole now are supported through a process that sees them get back into the community in a way that does not have them repeating crimes and that does not have them falling foul of the pretty strict conditions that are placed on parolees in terms of drug use or presenting after they get out.

That is very pleasing to hear, but — as His Honour has found — there have been issues associated with the adult parole board whereby applicants for parole have perhaps not been granted parole and it has led to violent acts. Clearly we need a strengthening of security through the appointment of proper corrections staff to provide security at the site. I note that the opposition is suggesting that protective services officers be used in that position, but this is an issue that the government has looked at and we found it to be totally unsatisfactory in that we think the best staff to provide security on the adult parole board’s premises would be those who come from the corrections area and who are used to working with prisoners, which is very different from the roles that protective services officers undertake. Officers with extra skills in dealing with people in the corrections system are clearly, we believe, the appropriate people to be providing the security necessary in the adult parole board area.

We note that this bill does also further strengthen the parole system, particularly by just clarifying some of those issues where there were still some doubts — clarifying reporting and the provision of information to the adult parole board, for example.

The other issue that has been talked about with regard to this bill is recognising that we are putting energy into establishing a program where prisoners can work for pay. Some of that pay would be able to go to supporting victims of crime. We know that it is a healthy thing within the prison system to offer work to prisoners when that is appropriate to try to put them on a pathway so that when they are released at the end of their sentence, they are in a position to progress in the outside world, confident to undertake work in a way that enables them to stay away from crime. To have work experience in a prison system is a very beneficial thing to provide.

Some people here would know that I have a farm near Waubra where I have lived part of the time over the last 20 years. It is near the Langi Kal Kal corrective centre, and many of those prisoners at Langi Kal Kal provide a great deal of beneficial work across the community, particularly in the Landcare area. I have had them assisting with fencing on my property. They do a great job so far as I have seen. It is good for them, and it is good for the community to see prisoners out there doing work in the community and benefiting the community. At the same time this system will allow for some of those wages to go back to supporting victims of crime.

This legislation is beneficial for the community. It clearly tightens up on issues of security within our prisons, within the adult parole board scheme and within the broader community, and I am very pleased to support this legislation.