Premier flags sweeping justice reforms for Victoria

Premier flags sweeping justice reforms for Victoria

Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday his government has been working on a number of changes for some time, but these have not yet been fully discussed in Cabinet.

There will be a greater distinction between providing bail for violent and non-violent offenders and a greater emphasis on the welfare of prisoners.

The changes could apply to all prisoners regardless of their gender, but further details have not been released.

It comes a day after coroner Simon McGregor’s damning findings following the death of an Indigenous woman in custody.

Coroner Simon McGregor said Veronica Nelson’s death in January 2020 was preventable, noting that corrections did not provide her with adequate health care.

Mr McGregor made 39 recommendations, including an urgent review of the state’s bail bonds law – widely known as the toughest in the country.

“Veronica Nelson should be alive today, she is not, we are truly sorry,” Mr Andrews told reporters in Glenroy on Tuesday.

“We will not waste a moment in fully responding to the results that the coroner submitted.”

In response to the 2017 Bourke Street massacre, the state government, with expert advice, made changes to the Bail Act in 2018.

Mr Andrews said reforms would have to strike a balance between the reasons for their introduction and the coroner’s findings, which included concerns about Ms Nelson’s medical care.

“(It’s) not just about how the laws are written, it’s about how services have been provided – or in this case actually not provided,” he said.

It is unclear whether the bail reform would apply to those already in custody.

The Victorian opposition has said it would consider any reasonable proposal so long as it does not jeopardize the safety of the community.

Ms Nelson died alone in her cell at the Dame Phyllis Frost Center in January 2020.

Ms. Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta, 37, died of complications from Wilkie’s syndrome during a heroin withdrawal.

Mr McGregor also raised serious concerns about the Corrections Authority’s oversight of deaths in custody, including what he described as a “disturbing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ arrangement” between departments.

He said that if Ms Nelson’s death had not led to a coronal inquest, the internal report, the report of death in custody and the formal debriefing would have remained the only official inquiries into her death.

He also referred to a debriefing following the death of Ms Nelson, chaired by Marngoneet Correctional Center Governor Pat McCormick, who ended the session with applause for the efforts of prison staff.

“After reviewing the incident package, I can’t see much that could have been improved,” Mr McCormick had said.

“Perhaps this incident would not have been handled as well in another prison. The difference between good and bad prisons is the way you treat the prisoners.”

Mr McGregor noted that in the 12 months following Ms Nelson’s death, four other women died in the same prison, including a woman who was also Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

He also referred the prison’s healthcare provider, Correct Care, to prosecutors for criminal charges for failing to prevent a risk to the health and safety of non-employees.

Correct Care has taken note of the coroner’s findings and will review them, a spokesman told AAP.

Corrections Victoria will take any recommendations into account and has already begun making changes, according to Corrections Officer Larissa Strong.

“We take the care and welfare of all detainees very seriously. However, it is clear that we must do better,” Ms Strong said.

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