Most people in Australian prisons have histories of profound and entrenched disadvantage. Yet as a community, the dominant view persists that those in jail are hardened criminals deserving of their time. Victims, meanwhile, are homogenised in the race by governments to get tough on crime – with little thought to the varied circumstances of their lives or the complex ways in which an experience of crime can compound into multiple vulnerabilities.
Yet the evidence shows that most offenders were victims first: kids in out-of-home care, women experiencing family violence, men with mental ill health, often driven to offending because of the failure of the system to respond to their victimisation. We also know that experiencing victimisation is among the biggest predictors of offending.
The challenge exists for us as a community to reconceive our understanding of victims and offenders, to grasp that they are often the same person. Former Victorian Attorney General and now Director of RMIT University’s Centre for Innovative Justice Rob Hulls advocates for a reimagining of our justice system and a more sophisticated public debate about how to better respond to victims of crime.
Rob Hulls completed his law course at RMIT and began his career as a Solicitor for the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria from 1984–86. Rob then moved to Mt Isa in Queensland, and worked for the West Queensland Aboriginal Legal Service for 5 years. He then served one term in Federal Parliament from 1990–93 as the member for Kennedy, Queensland and in 1994 on return to Melbourne was appointed Chief of Staff to the Victorian Leader of the Opposition. In his state political career Rob held the offices of Attorney-General; Minister for Manufacturing Industry and Minister for Racing, Minister for WorkCover, Minister for Planning and Minister for Industrial Relations.
As Attorney-General, Rob instigated significant changes to Victoria’s legal system which saw the establishment of the state’s first Charter of Human Rights. He established specialist courts in Victoria including for Victoria’s indigenous community, for people with mental health issues, for people with drug addiction and for victims of family violence. He also opened up the process for the appointment of people to Victoria’s judiciary to ensure that more women and people from diverse backgrounds were appointed.
In October 2012 Rob was appointed Adjunct Professor at RMIT and was invited to establish the new Centre for Innovative Justice as its inaugural Director. The Centre’s objective is to develop, drive, and expand the capacity of the justice system to meet and adapt to the needs of its diverse users. The Centre has facilitated the establishment of a multi-disciplinary practice on site with lawyers and social workers together with students providing holistic, wrap-around services to female prisoners in Victoria.