How Full Are Our Jails?

  • 30 July 2018

The surge in prisoner numbers has been a threat to the health and safety of officers and ancillary staff working in the system.

All jurisdictions reported that the biggest impact on availability of beds was changes to sentencing laws, particularly Victoria and Tasmania where suspended sentences have been abolished, access to bail has been tightened and Tasmania reports that changes are going through Parliament now that will make access to remissions harder therefore further exacerbating the lack of available beds.

NSW: muster was 14,000 for a system built to house 11,000

VICTORIA: had a muster of 7,506 an increase of nearly 6% in 12 months with 2,595 unsentenced (on remand)

TASMANIA: report they are at capacity.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: have 116 beds available but are overcrowded in women’s and protection prisoner populations.

QUEENSLAND: figures not avail before publication.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: had a total count of 6,902 and reporting less than 90 beds available at their two main prisons (Acacia and Hakea)

All jurisdictions reported that new builds are taking some of the pressure off but felt that it will be temporary as remand numbers are causing flow on management of available bed problems across the country.

Victoria’s Ravenhall (GEO) has opened and has over 900 in its muster at the moment (capacity 1100) with another 700 bed maximum security prison announced for the Geelong / Lara precinct due to be built; this is in addition to the new Youth Detention Centre announced to deal with the other burgeoning prison population in the youth system.

Yet members in Victoria report that the site by site analysis of the lack of bed availability is such, that at Marngoneet they are using bunk beds in single cell units and have also installed bunks in cottages so prisoners prefer to remain in units because these are less crowded.

In Victoria at DPFC (women’s prison) management are trying to handle the incompatible dual demand of increased prisoner numbers (increased surge beds by 25) with the need to cut operating costs by cutting staff numbers at posts.

NSW report that their Government has responded with an announcement for possibly the biggest prison in Australia to be built at Grafton, with a build bed muster of 1700 to be run by Serco.

NSW have also initiated a program of “Rapid Build” prisons which could be described as “pop ups”.  Initially only to house “model prisoners” but now taking more serious classified prisoners.  In discussions late yesterday afternoon with the Victorian Premiers Office I was advised that EDI Downer had approached the State Government with an idea to put rapid builds into Victoria.

SA report that they have 48 beds offline at Yatala due to asbestos being discovered in protection.  The Government have moved to put in an additional unit at Adelaide Remand (ARC) but it is felt that this will not be sufficient with another surge of prisoners requiring them to revert to using police cells yet again.

The female bed shortage has been “managed” by having Mt. Gambier (male/private) hold females and Port Augusta has changed a male unit to a female one to accommodate female prisoners.

Tasmania notes a commitment from their Government to build a new Northern Prison (but stage 1 won’t open for 5 years) and it will have 270 beds for both males and females.  A new Remand prison has also been announced along with upgrades for existing women’s and minimum security units.

W.A. report WANDOO returns as a Government run jail at end of June but proposed staffing levels unacceptable so WAPOU refuses to let it open as Corrections propose 80 prisoners with 4 staff so discussions are continuing

W.A. where Government has announced staffing review across all prisons to reduce 75 EFT and have identified 50 positions that have been funded but not filled and these are the ones being cut.

W.A. running with 20% below optimum staffing profile and WAPOU is scheduled to meet with Treasury

The challenge for CPSU members is to turn the spotlight on the management of the system that Governments continue to ignore.

It’s all very well to increase Police numbers and give them all the equipment and support they need but our corrections system is straining and it needs resourcing to the same level.

Let’s break the habit of politicians campaigning on law and order for some, and ignoring it for others.

CPSU will call politicians out when they want to just lock them up and look away.