More than 650 beds have been announced by the New South Wales Government for two of the state’s jails as it deals with a record number of inmates.
There are more than 12,000 inmates across the state, with the latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealing the prison population has risen for the fourth consecutive quarter.
Corrections Minister David Elliott announced 400 extra beds for the new jail being built at Grafton, bringing the capacity there to 1,000.
“We’re very aware that our prisons are near capacity, that is why we’re rolling out a plan to … increase the number of cells available,” he said.
This figure builds on top of another 1,000 beds for Grafton and Parklea that were announced by the Government in June last year.
The Government is calling for expressions of interest from the private sector for the design and construction of the new Grafton jail, drawing criticism from the union.
Mr McMahon said the Government should not be privatising jails.
“I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence that privately run prisons actually produce any benefits for rehabilitation,” he said.
“They run their prisons at a much reduced staff rate so the employment alone will be less than if it was a government-run facility.”
The Corrections Minister dismissed the union’s comments.
“There are efficiencies in both sectors but today’s announcement is a win for NSW; increasing the capacity which the union, the judiciary and the Government is aware we need.” Mr Elliott said
Prisoners Awaiting Trial in Overcrowded Conditions ‘Unacceptable’: Triggs
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, is concerned by the overcrowding, as well as the high number of people in custody without a conviction awaiting trial.
“Short term perhaps it’s acceptable but I think what we’re seeing is a rise in numbers for example on remand where of course people are waiting for their trials,” Professor Triggs said.
“And by definition of course they haven’t been convicted and it really does seem unacceptable to have people in crowded conditions when they’ve not yet been tried.”
The State Opposition said the Government should reopen Berrima jail in the Southern Highlands to deal with the overcrowding as the new beds will not be introduced until 2019.
“[The Government] certainly is in this predicament because of its policy four years ago of shutting the prisons down,” Labor’s corrections spokesman Guy Zangari said.
“This is the Government’s own making, this mess, and certainly it needs to mop up the mess.
“What we actually need today, tomorrow and next week are prison beds and cells.”
The decision to expand the state’s prison system comes after the number of beds was reduced in Kirkconnell, Parramatta, Grafton and Berrimah.
Professor Triggs said the reversal of that trend represented a policy failure.
“One can hardly blame the law enforcement agencies and our judges for being concerned with the primary objective of protecting society,” she said.
“But at the same time, when we see this constant seesawing of numbers and ultimately a failure to resolve the problem with growing numbers I think we really need to rethink what we’re doing and indeed rethink how we’re spending these huge dollars, $2.6 billion estimated nationally.”
The Government will hold community information sessions about the new Grafton jail this month.