The family of Veronica Nelson want Victoria’s urgent bail reforms named after her so politicians are reminded of how cruel prison is for Indigenous people.
Ms Nelson, 37, died alone in her cell at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in January 2020, with a coroner later finding her death was preventable and the state’s bail act in need of reform.
Ms Nelson’s family on Wednesday called on the Andrews government to legislate changes including removing the presumption against bail.
The reforms should be called Poccum’s Law in reference to Ms Nelson’s nickname, her mother Aunty Donna Nelson said.
“I want these reforms to be made in honour of my daughter Veronica so lawmakers can always be reminded of how cruel and inhumane prison can be to our mob,” Aunty Donna said in a statement.
“The Victorian government has an opportunity to get this right once and for all – to keep our daughters out of these heartless prisons and to invest that money into where it is needed, rehabilitation and support for our mob.”
While passing on condolences to Ms Nelson’s family, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the government wasn’t considering their demand to completely remove the presumption against bail.
“We know there has been a disproportionate impact on some vulnerable groups and we’re seeking to address that,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“Will we wind back bail laws to the point where there is an absolute presumption against bail? No, not at this stage.”
The Victorian government was consulting on the proposed laws and nothing was necessarily ruled in or out, Ms Symes added.
It comes as a new report from the Justice Reform Initiative shows the number of Indigenous people in Victoria’s prisons rose in the past decade from 6.2 per cent to 12 per cent of total inmates.
Indigenous adults are imprisoned at 15.6 times the rate of the non-Indigenous people despite making up one per cent of the Victorian population.
Victoria’s overall inmate numbers also rose 32 per cent in the past 10 years while corrections spending increased 96 per cent.
More than half those in lock-up have been there before, while the proportion detained while unsentenced rose to 42 per cent of the prisoner population.
The Justice Reform Initiative is calling for evidence-based policy measures to reduce numbers and save taxpayer money.
The alliance includes former parliamentarians, Indigenous leaders, judicial figures and other experts.
“This is a moment to make Victoria a leader in justice policy,” executive director Mindy Sotiri said.
“We’ve seen the devastating consequences that can flow from kneejerk policy reactions and politicised ‘law and order’ actions but putting more people into prison at enormous cost doesn’t actually work to make the community safer.”
Legislation to reform Victoria’s bail laws, child protection and youth justice system will be brought before parliament in the first half of this year.