REFORM in the justice system was among the weighty topics covered in a public forum about human rights and imprisonment in Bendigo today.
Victorian Deputy Ombudsman John Taylor, human rights advocate Charandev Singh and former prison chaplain and RMIT professor Peter Nordon were among the guest speakers at the Justice Bites forum, held at La Trobe Uni's Visual Arts Centre from 2pm until 4pm.
The forum was the joint initiative of the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and the Centre for the Human Rights of Imprisoned People (CHRIP) and followed the success of a similar Talking Justice forum in Bendigo in May.
As part of his presentation, Mr Taylor provided a review of the role of the Ombudsman in relation to prisoner complaints and presented statistics which he said showed imprisonment rates were increasing as part of a "worrying trend" with "resources not going up in proportion".
Mr Taylor lamented the prison system's "failure to address even the most minor complaints" and said broader issues in the prison population like recidivism, a decline in interest in rehabilitation programs and alarming numbers of men and women who became homelessness on release from prison were being overlooked.
Mr Singh, a paralegal with decades of experience in deaths in custody and detention, first spoke about his own journey as a human rights worker.
"The only work I needed to do was the hardest work there was to be done," he said.
He said prisons were a place of "extreme disadvantage and extreme disability" and spoke passionately about his views on the state of prison systems in Australia.
"The prison system is not broken," he said.
"The prison system is operating how it always and continuously intended to operate. It breaks people.
"It amplifies the impact of the harm on people's lives, it fails to make anyone accountable."
He believed it was "a system not capable of fundamental reform".