Victoria's prison population has surged 35 per cent in four years, politicians are being warned ahead of a state election where law and order issues are again at the fore.
Not-for-profit group Jesuit Social Services (JSS) has marked 100 days out from the November 29 poll by urging political leaders to pull back from a policy battle over who could be tougher on crime.
"Victorians deserve more than a race to the bottom on law and order," JSS chief executive Julie Edwards said on Wednesday.
"There is little evidence to suggest these policies will make our community safer - on the contrary, prison often exacerbates the problems that lead people to offend in the first place."
Victoria's prison population has increased from 4581 to 6230 since the 2010 state poll.
Ms Edwards said earlier law and order reforms had contributed to the increase, and more was coming with legislation for ten-year mandatory jail terms for "one punch" attackers introduced to parliament this week.
Prison operating costs also surged 50 per cent from 2009-10 to 2012-13, and this money was better spent on programs to tackle substance abuse and social disadvantage.
"If we want to create safer communities, we need to invest in programs targeting the root causes and underlying disadvantage behind crime," Ms Edwards said.
The Australian Bar Association (ABA) and the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) have also voiced concerns about the law and order focus of the Victorian government.
ABA president Mark Livesey QC said mandatory sentences meant there was no incentive to enter an early guilty plea, adding to justice system costs and waiting times.
"We also need to recognise that (one-punch attacks) are often opportunistic acts, often fuelled by alcohol, and offenders are not likely to pause to consider that there is a mandatory sentence," Mr Livesey said.
LIV president Geoff Bowyer said politicians were fostering the perception "we live in a dangerous society".
"...and that all offenders should just be locked away for a long time, rather than developing better programs to divert and monitor offenders," he said.