Bail laws need to change to reduce harm to children, Victorian inquiry finds

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Victorian MPs have called on the government to reform the state’s bail laws in an effort to reduce the harm done to children as a result of their parents’ imprisonment.

The final report of an inquiry into children of imprisoned parents, presented in parliament on Thursday, found that incarceration of parents can disrupt child development and have detrimental impacts on emotional and social well-being, exposing children to greater risk. of mental and physical health problems.

In turn, this can lead to intergenerational trauma and incarceration.

There is no clear figure for the number of children affected by parental incarceration in Victoria, although researchers have estimated that around 7,000 have a parent in prison at any given time, and that 45,000 will have a parent in prison at some point in time. your childhood.

Estimates for Aboriginal children are higher than for non-Aboriginal children. About 20% of Aboriginal children will be incarcerated by their parents, compared to 5% of non-Aboriginal children.

Related: ‘Long overdue’: MPs call for revision of Victoria’s bail laws that disproportionately affect women

“Changes to Victoria’s bail laws mean more people are being arrested. This, in turn, means that more parents are incarcerated,” the report concluded.

“Women, particularly Aboriginal women, are the fastest growing group in Victoria’s prisons. The reverse encumbrance provisions of the Bail Act 1977 (Vic), which led to increases in pretrial detention rates, are contributing to this increase. ”

It is the second time this year that the Legislative Council’s legal and social issues committee has recommended a review of bail laws.

Its investigation into the justice system, released in March, found that the current bail system has a number of negative effects on people accused of an offense and has disproportionately affected women, Victorian Aboriginals, children and youth, and people with disabilities.

The bail laws were revamped following the 2017 Bourke Street massacre to make the bail threshold much higher, putting the onus on the accused to prove that they are not an unacceptable risk to the public and to provide a compelling reason or exceptional circumstance to that they be punished. released from custody.

“Our bail and parole systems have become dysfunctional and have led to increasing numbers of women in particular, and men, entering our prison system,” wrote committee chair Reason Party Representative Fiona Patten. in Thursday’s report.

Among the survey’s 29 recommendations is the establishment of a dedicated unit, branch or agency within the Department of Families, Justice and Housing to respond to children and families of people affected by parental incarceration.

It also wants the government to implement systemic data collection processes to identify the number of children affected by parental incarceration in order to monitor and respond to their well-being.

There should be a legislative change, the committee recommended, that would reduce the number of people in prison.

Related: ‘Colonial Paper’: Victorian Justice Department reports raise concerns about the well-being of indigenous youth

These changes have included addressing the social determinants of offensive behavior, making presumptions against bail more targeted at serious offenses and risks, allowing a person’s circumstances to be considered when deciding to grant bail or parole, and using non-custodial sentencing options, when appropriate.

In an interview with Guardian Australia, state attorney general Jaclyn Symes admitted she had “unfinished business” that she hoped to continue if re-elected, including the possibility of bail reform.

Symes said he continued to speak with organizations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and hoped that the coronal inquiry into the deaths of Yorta Yorta, Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung and Wiradjuri’s wife, Veronica Nelson, would look into the matter.

“Law reform is always ongoing, but I am particularly engaged on this issue with stakeholders,” said Symes.

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