The Public Service Association of NSW, the union representing the state’s prison officers, warns new mandatory sentencing laws proposed by the O’Farrell government will increase inmate numbers and risk prison staff safety.
NSW prison officers agree that the community should not tolerate alcohol fuelled violence.
However, cuts by both the former Labor Government and the present O’Farrell administration have left NSW prisons with dangerously low staffing levels that will struggle to cope with the increase in inmate numbers that will result from the “one punch” law.
This on top of the O’Farrell Government’s changes to workers compensation laws which leave prison officers without proper protection if they are injured doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.
When the Government shut down several prisons in 2011 to save money, inmate numbers were considerably lower than they are today.
The Government provided no contingency plan for any increase in numbers.
“The current prison officer to inmate ratio is at dangerously low levels” said Anne Gardiner, General Secretary of the Public Service Association, the union that represents NSW prison officers.
“Unless this Government is prepared to address these staffing ratios and the working conditions of prison staff, including the restoration of proper workers compensation provisions, any increase in inmate numbers is unacceptable”.
In some gaols with inmate populations of over 300 inmates, it is not uncommon for there to be only 20 prison officers on duty at any one time.
This situation has been exacerbated by the O’Farrell Government’s drive towards the casualisation of the prison service.
There has been no recruitment drive for permanent prison officers for many years.
“The court cells are likely to bear the brunt of this new legislation,” said Anne Gardiner.
“When police hand offenders over to prison officers who staff the court locations, offenders are often still under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs and thus have heightened levels of aggression.”
“Unlike police, prison officers do not have access to proper workers compensation if they are assaulted.”
“Prison overcrowding further increases tensions within NSW gaols.”
“When the O’Farrell Government changed the workers compensation laws, emergency services personnel were given an exemption from the changes but prison officers were overlooked.”
“This has left prison officers – who are exposed to the risk of serious injury on a daily basis – without adequate coverage.”
Media contact: PSA (02) 92200982