Victoria’s unjust bail laws need to be fixed
Demand for changes to Victorian bail laws is growing. The current harsh regime was introduced in response to a media frenzy in 2017 when a man out on bail rammed into a crowd, killing six people. Today, imprisonment rates are the highest in a century.
The current bail law has a presumption versus bail — bail is the exception, not the norm. People who pose no risk to the community and who are unlikely to be imprisoned even if found guilty, are routinely denied bail because they cannot show “compelling reason” or of “exceptional circumstances”.
First Nations people and women are paying the highest price, some of their lives. Overcrowded prisons are filled with poor people who have not yet appeared in court. A staggering 89% of First Nations women, including many mothers, enter jail awaiting trial.
On December 30, 2019, Mrs. Nelson Walker, a 27-year-old Yorta Yorta woman, was arrested for shoplifting, denied bail and jailed. She struggled with addiction and died alone in a maximum-security cell at Dame Phyllis Frost Center on January 2, her cries for help being ignored. His death is a tragedy. She shouldn’t have been in jail!
A groundswell of the building. Ahead of the last state election, a competition to be the toughest on policing policies took off between the major parties. Victoria then goes to the polls on November 26 and social justice campaigners are organizing to avoid another “tenacity contest”.
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) is spearheading a campaign to demand bail laws be fixed. Yorta Yorta woman Nerita Waight of VALS says bail laws “sacrifice Indigenous lives for votes”.
A meticulous policy brief prepared by VALS exposes the genocidal impact of current laws. They run directly counter to the 1991 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which recommended imprisonment as a last resort.
The Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA), a grassroots group organizing to end deaths in custody for good, supports the VALS initiative. On June 2, he launched his No Crime, No Time – Fix Victoria’s Bail Laws Now campaign. Speakers included Karen Fletcher from Flat Out, Apsara Sabaratnam from Multicultural Greens and Ilo Diaz from the Police Accountability Project.
The ISJA campaign presents a petition calling on the Victorian government to release remand prisoners from Victorian prisons, remove the reverse charge provisions of bail law and create a presumption in favor of bail, by requiring the prosecution to demonstrate why bail should not be granted.
Debbie Brennan, who spoke at the launch of the petition for the Socialist Freedom Party and radical women, said: “It is absolutely time to expose Victoria’s bail laws for what they are: a highly profitable pipeline to prison. Poverty sends people to prison and sexism puts women on the front lines.
The ISJA worked with local government councilors – Socialists and Greens – to demand changes to bail laws. On July 13, the City of Moreland passed a comprehensive resolution supporting the ISJA campaign. She is committed to actively promoting the demands with the inhabitants. Other municipalities plan to do the same.
With punitive bail laws ensuring that more people would be imprisoned, the Victorian government spent to expand prisons. Although funding is urgently needed for community services, health, education and social housing, Victoria has announced $1.8 billion to build prisons, including $188.9 million allocated to the opening of 106 new cells at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.
The Homes Not Prisons campaign, formed to stop the expansion of women’s prison, is also organizing ahead of national elections to oppose calls for more defunding of the police and prisons and support reform of the Prisons Act. bail. He calls for billions earmarked for prisons to be reallocated to fund urgently needed social housing. The money earmarked for expanding the women’s prison alone would make it possible to build a thousand new houses.
One example among many others. Victoria is not unique with its repressive bail laws. Other states and territories have also moved to a presumption against bail.
In New South Wales, where tough measures criminalizing environmental protests are in place, the government is weaponizing bail laws to intimidate protesters. Blockade Australia activists have faced excessive bail conditions, including a ban on communicating with friends, the imposition of curfews and a ban on certain uses of encrypted messaging.
The problems in Australia exist in other countries. Cash deposit systems for profit operate in the United States. More than 2 million people, mostly of color, use commercial bonds. A form of ransom, the company retains a percentage of the bond even if the person is found not guilty.
A class action lawsuit settled in Detroit, Michigan, in July imposes strict limits on the use of cash bail. Black defendants led this fight. Starmaine Jackson, a black single mother, was jailed for unpaid traffic tickets. She lost her job as a practical nurse and her apartment after using her rent money to pay the $700 bail. Jubilant, she said: “Thousands of us will be spared the hardship of being locked up just because we are poor.
The capitalist justice system is stacked against the poor. For Ms. Nelson-Walker and Ms. Jackson, let’s maintain the momentum for change.
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Sign the No Crime, No Time! Fix Victoria’s bail laws now petition here.
Read VALS briefing note: Fixing Victoria’s breaks bail laws