Prison closures to put NSW inmates in domountable buildings - Public Service Association

Prison closures to put NSW inmates in domountable buildings

Daily Telegraph – 8 January 2015

PRISONERS in the state’s overcrowded jails are to be housed in demountable cellblocks as the NSW government tries to deal with its embarrassing decision to close three-and-a-half correctional centres, leaving a shortage of 900 prison beds.

The government yesterday continued to refuse to reopen the jails it closed under former Attorney-General Greg Smith, despite a prison population higher than when it came to power in 2011. Full-time prison officers, who were made redundant with the  closures, are now being replaced by casuals.

Prison officials already worried about dangerous overcrowding in their jails are now becoming “desperate” with just over two weeks before the state’s tough new bail laws are introduced.

“Everyone in corrections is bracing themselves for the expected increase in inmate numbers,” former Grafton Jail governor John Heffernan said yesterday.

“They are desperate for beds.”

Under the direction of Mr Smith, the system was downsized — with about 900 beds lost — as Parramatta, Berrima and Kirkconnell jails closed and Grafton was downgraded to a transfer and remand jail.

The Department of Corrective Services revealed yesterday that it had government approval to build temporary demountable cellblocks to house medium-security prisoners which will be used at various jails around the state “as necessary.”

The demountables, which it is understood will have a capacity to house 40 inmates, will be built by prisoners at Cessnock Jail as part of Corrective Services Industries.

New staff are being trained to replace full-time officers who were made redundant when the jails closed.

The prison officers’ union has written to Premier Mike Baird warning him that the jails are already at full capacity of 10,800 — with the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research warning that number will rise to 12,500 inmates by the end of March.

Prison officers say plans to make every cell “two-out’’ — two-persons per cell — will put officers’ lives at risk.

Under the direction of Attorney-General Greg Smith, the system was downsized — with about 900 beds lost — as Parramatta, Berrima and Kirkconnell jails closed and Grafton was downgraded to a transfer and remand jail.

“There is little or no capacity within the system to house any additional inmates who may be detained in custody following the new bail laws,” the letter from Anne Gardiner, general secretary of the Public Services Association, said.

She was writing on behalf of the prison officers’ vocational branch and said it was urgent that Kirkconnell and Grafton were reopened and a new 700-bed prison built.

Ms Gardiner said the moves to increase capacity by doubling up every cell would “have a detrimental impact on inmate populations and more importantly on staff safety.”

The prison officers have refused to add extra beds to the cells. Mr Heffernan said the government had been “caught short.”

“We now have inmate numbers about to rise significantly with insufficient cells to house them while closed prisons sit idly by gathering dust,” he said.

“All this simply because the government is obsessed with saving money. Well, it’s going to cost a whole lot more in the long run.”

The Daily Telegraph revealed last year that documents tendered to the NSW upper house showed the 2011 decision to shut the jails — at a time when the prison population was falling — has cost taxpayers close to $10 million, $2 million of which has been spent on security and maintenance for empty jails.

A spokesman for Corrective Services said they responded to “fluctuations in the prison population.”

“In response to growing prisoner numbers in 2014 CSNSW commissioned an additional 650 beds in the system, being a mixture of doubling of single cells and recommissioning of previously closed beds including at Long Bay Correctional Centre,” he said.

“Since then CSNSW has received Government approval and funding for Corrective Services Industries to construct modular cells to a medium-security standard. These cells will be deployed at different centres, as necessary.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said: “NSW runs the most efficient prison system in Australia by constantly adjusting investment and costs in response to fluctuating inmate numbers.

“The government’s decision to close under-utilised and inefficient prison stock was offset by building a more efficient maximum security wing at Cessnock Correctional Centre — a decision which saves NSW taxpayers $45 million a year.”

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