The State Government may be forced to backflip on its controversial decision to close parts of the Grafton jail.
The prison operation was downsized in 2012, when 180 beds were closed and almost 100 jobs lost. The move sparked a spirited community protest.
Attorney General Brad Hazzard said a recent spike in prisoner numbers means several measures are now being considered.
There are currently around 10,500 prisoners, and unions say jails can hold just over 11,000 people.
“From time to time obviously the prison population does go up and does go down,” Mr Hazzard said.
“At the moment there is a spike and we’re looking at all options, and those options include some new modular cells but also looking at the possibility, but it is only a possibility at this point, of reopening some facilities including Grafton.
“Obviously there are a range of views as to whether or not the closure of the Grafton prison earlier was the right thing to do.
“I believe, although I wasn’t directly involved in that decision making at the time, that it was. But we also have to be open minded about the options that are necessary as prison populations vary. As the minister responsible now I’m certainly including that in my frame of reference.”
The Nationals’ member for Clarence, who joined a picket line to protest about the jail’s closure, said not too much work is needed to reopen it.
Chris Gulaptis inspected the facility with the Attorney General late last week.
“The jail was stripped when it was decommissioned, with a lot of the fixtures going to other prisons,” he said.
“So they’ll have to be returned. I don’t think it’s a big deal to be quite honest. The nuts and bolts of it are there and it’s just the will to do it now.”
“There’s a lot of cynicism attached to politics, and rightly so, but we have got a prison population that is overflowing and we need to house them. The prison environment has changed over the last couple of years where we’ve seen tougher legislation come in, new bail laws, and a different attitude from magistrates.”
“So we’re seeing more people in jail, and that’s where the community wants to see them.”
The Clarence Valley Mayor, Richie Williamson, agreed that reopening Grafton would make sense.
“We acknowledge that a small section of the correctional facility at Grafton is old and dated, but certainly a wide section of it is still suitable and in a lot of the cases there is only 20-25 years old,” he said.
The head of Grafton’s chamber of commerce said the town has struggled in the wake of the jail’s downsizing.
John Shearer said the move came at the worst possible time.
“Over a period of about two years we lost probably 150 employees from the local meatworks, and then another similar amount from a Telstra call centre that closed as well,” he said. “So when you look at that, probably 4-500 families without an income all of a sudden.”
“So of course that had a flow-on effect, so it’s been very detrimental to the town.”