Grafton open; but prisons still packed tight - Public Service Association

Grafton open; but prisons still packed tight

The inmates may not be too thrilled to be there, but the community of Grafton is happy to have its prison back in operation.

After a long campaign by the PSA, backed by the local chamber of commerce, council, and the local National Party MP, the Baird Government re-opened more than 100 beds at the correctional facility.

The initial expansion of the prison saw about 25 new full-time positions created.

A new prison is expected to be completed in the nearby town of Lavadia by 2019.

Corrective Services NSW has announced the pool of staff who formerly worked at the prison before it was downgraded to remand centre status in 2012 will be given first right of refusal on new jobs.

The PSA has conducted a long campaign for the prison to be re-opened.

Dating back to 1893, the facility was promoted as an excellent destination for the rising number of prisoners in the NSW correctional system.

PSA General Secretary Anne Gardiner highlighted the need for Grafton to be reopened as a matter of urgency to deal with the situation.

“This union has fought a tireless battle to place the need to re-open Grafton on the Government’s radar while generating support at a local community level,” said Gardiner.

“This campaign demonstrates how the union, working with the broader community – including National MP, Clarence Valley Council Mayor and President of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce – can produce an outstanding result for regional NSW.

“I am delighted that the PSA has been able to make such a strong contribution to the Grafton region.”
However, the crisis in prison numbers continues.

With stricter sentencing and a boost in ice-related convictions, the NSW prison system is struggling to cope, as the Baird Government last year ignored warnings from the PSA last year that the system was underfunded and not able to cope with projected growth in prison numbers.

Those predictions have come true.

A surge in inmates on remand has been partially blamed for the boost in numbers.

There have been reports of convicted prisoners being driven around in vans while authorities try to find beds for them.

Recently, bail courts have been closed due to overcrowding and convicted felons have been allowed to remain outside due to a lack of cells.

Police have been working overtime and buying take-away for inmates as holding cells designed for short stints of incarceration are used for longer-term confinement.

In November, a suspected ice dealer was alleged by The Daily Telegraph to have been granted bail on the sole basis there was nowhere to house him in the Corrective Services system.

In some cases, prisoners are now three to a cell, increasing the risk of assault, particularly as summer temperatures climb and smoking bans continue to fray tempers.

Parklea Prison, in Sydney’s north-west, is also to be expanded in the future, with work expected to be complete in 2018.

The PSA first alerted Premier Baird to the overcrowding crisis with a letter in December 2014.

The people of NSW are still waiting for an adequate response.

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