Alcohol testing of Victorian prisoners has dropped 13% in the past year, and drug testing increased by only 0.2%, despite an increase in positive test results, according to the Department of Justice’s annual report.
The percentage of positive random drug test results increased to 3.48%, up from from 3.15% in the previous financial year — the highest level in the past five years. The number of breath tests returning positive results increased from six to seven.
A Corrections Victoria spokesperson denied the prison system’s rehabilitation program was failing. He gave no reason for the drop in testing, but said: “Corrections Victoria is constantly on the lookout for new and improved ways of detecting illegal contraband. Corrections Victoria has one of the most extensive urine testing programs in Australia.”
The spokesperson said that although the total of 11,160 inmates breath tested in 2010-11 was down 13.4% on 2009-10, the decrease was not a concern because in the longer term the numbers tested had significantly increased.
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“The number of breath tests conducted in Victoria has increased more than 119% since 2006-07 when the Judy Lazarus Transition Centre opened,” the spokesperson said.
In the same period 30,345 prisoners were drug tested, up just 0.25% on the 30,287 tests in 2009 -10. Corrections Victoria denied that the decrease in testing was a cost-cutting measure.
Professor Peter Norden, a justice advocate who has worked in the criminal justice area for more than 30 years, said sufficient resources were not being allocated to help prisoners’ health and education needs.
“It is not surprising that breath testing for alcohol is less than in previous years, but it is over time for the Victorian government to put a halt to its expansionary prison policies, the money is needed for education, health and transport,” he said.
Victoria’s prisoner population had increased by 16% in Victoria between June 2006 and June 2010, the report showed.
Shadow corrections minister Jill Hennessy said Corrections Victoria had failed to ensure the welfare of prisoners by relaxing alcohol testing and not preparing inmates for life outside of prison. “If you can’t get your drug or alcohol addictions treated the prospect of re-offending remains high,” she said.
Hennessy said that Corrections Victoria had failed to invest appropriately in the prevention of inmates with drug and alcohol offences relapsing: “Their own budget forecasts an increase in recidivism.”
Her own inquiries discovered that contraband was easy to come by for prisoners. “Some inmates were found with materials to make home made alcohol,” she said.
The annual report also said during the decrease in breath testing of inmates the rate of self-harm by Victorian prisoners was its highest in the past five recorded years. The rate of assault on prison staff by inmates had also increased when compared with the previous five recorded years, the report said.
“Our prisons are bursting at the seams, drugs, alcohol and addiction are ever-present,” said Hennessy.