Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is facing increasing pressure over the state’s “law and order crisis”, with the Opposition Leader claiming Melbourne is becoming the “Johannesburg of the South Pacific”.
The besieged Labor leader has announced a series of law and order reforms in a bid to quell community concern following recent high-profile acts of criminal violence.
On Friday, the Premier said his government would build a new youth justice facility and deploy 40 new prison officers after 15 youth offenders broke out of prison at Malmsbury, north-west of Melbourne, and went on a terrifying rampage throughout the city.
As inmates rioted on Wednesday, the teenagers escaped and allegedly committed armed robberies, car jackings, an aggravated burglary and an assault.
The last two escapees were arrested on Thursday afternoon.
It was the latest failing of the state’s youth justice system, and came after last week’s car rampage in the city’s CBD, which killed five people.
Opposition leader Matthew Guy has seized on the law and order concerns, accusing the state government of standing by while Melbourne became “the Johannesburg of the South Pacific”.
Mr Guy said the Premier had to “take responsibility for what is a complete crisis in law and order in Victoria”.
Criminal justice expert Marietta Martinovic, of RMIT University, told The New Daily current problems in the youth justice system were unprecedented in Victoria.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before. In other states we have, but not in Victoria,” Dr Martinovic said.
“Prisoners are escaping, terrorising people on the side of the road. I don’t remember anything like it in the two decades I’ve been working in this field.”
Last year, the government was charged by the state’s workplace safety authorities when up to 300 prisoners rioted at the Ravenhall remand centre for more than 15 hours.
On Friday, Mr Andrews announced the state’s corrections department would take over youth prisons, previously overseen by the Department of Human Services.
Prison guards will also be able to use additional weapons to maintain order.
“This is a big step, but it is exactly the right thing to do in the light of the completely unacceptable security breach at Malmsbury,” Mr Andrews said.
After it emerged alleged Bourke Street attacker Dimitrious Gargasoulas had been released by a volunteer bail justice days earlier, the Premier announced a new night court would be created to hear out-of-hours bail requests from violent suspects.
The Andrews government also promised last year to recruit almost 3000 new police officers, the biggest recruitment drive in the state’s history.
The Opposition has called for an overhaul of the bail system, including the presumption of remand for those facing violent charges.
Tighter police pursuit policies have also come under fire, with the Police Association claiming officers were directed not to intercept Mr Gargasoulas for safety reasons.
The Premier’s office did not respond to the claim of a “law and order crisis”, but Police Minister Lisa Neville said the state was boosting police numbers and adding new powers and laws in relation to youth offenders.
“We’re giving Victoria Police every resource they have asked for to fight crime and keep the community safe,” she said.
When asked how the Opposition had determined the state was in “crisis”, a spokesman for Mr Guy pointed The New Daily to statistics that showed an 11.6 per cent increase in offences in the 12 months to September.
The statistics also show a rise in crimes such as assault and robbery.
Warning from experts
Dr Martinovic warned the Andrews government against a reactive “tough on crime” response of measures such as mandatory sentencing or simply building more prisons.
“Let’s look at evidence-based responses rather than just tough on crime slogans which have not worked,” she said.
“We need more investment in crime prevention and alternatives to incarceration. Most offenders transition from the youth system to adult corrections. We need to see that stop.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for bollards to be installed at Bourke Street Mall and other open spaces to prevent another car rampage, comparing the style of attack to similar incidents in Nice and Berlin.