Day six of the Grafton jail community picket line.
Day six of the Grafton jail community picket line. Debrah Novak

Parliamentary inquiry fails to secure Grafton jail's future

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry into the downsizing of corrective services in NSW has failed to secure a future for the Grafton jail or provide certain economic relief for the loss of the region's major employer.

In his response to the inquiry, which found the closure of the jail was unjustified and a "knee-jerk reaction", NSW Attorney General Greg Smith supported the majority of recommendations made by the committee but stopped short of committing to reinvest in the region.

While he said Corrective Services NSW would continue to use inmate resources from other regions to undertake community projects at Grafton "whenever possible and feasible", Mr Smith would not commit a proportion of savings achieved by the closure of the jail to job creation in the Clarence Valley.

He said the justice reinvestment model was typically used in countries that had a "much higher proportion" of offenders and while it was a good concept, NSW Treasury "must allocate any savings according to the government's budget priorities".

He did however say that the government would "consider how to strengthen existing processes to address economic impacts in regional communities".

The government recognised the need for developing a framework for the future management of correctional facilities and to work with the relevant agencies to expedite the re-use of state-owned buildings for private use.

There was also a commitment to continue supporting indigenous inmates who had been transferred out of the region by ensuring contact with their families.

Mr Smith said consideration was currently being given to expanding the Family Video Contact Program to include the Lismore court house.

In August this year, the NSW Budget Estimates Committee heard many of the state's prisons were operating at capacity and Sydney jails were being expanded.

At the time, figures released by Corrective Services showed Glen Innes Correctional Centre had a population of 133 inmates, leaving a buffer of more than 20% and Cessnock a population of 695 with a buffer of almost 10%.
There was pressure on the NSW Government to give priority to Grafton, should the need arise for another jail to be opened in northern NSW.

In his response on Monday, Mr Smith said the government "supports this recommendation in principle".

"The design and establishment of new correctional centres at a location is informed by factors such as budgetary constraints, demand for correctional services and the size of the inmate population," Mr Smith said.

"If a new facility is required in northern NSW, then it will be necessary to have regard to these factors at the time."

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