A parliamentary inquiry has savaged the state government’s handling of the closure and downsizing of corrective services facilities, with Grafton singled out as one of the worst affected regions.
The committee made nine recommendations which included recommendations of significant financial and infrastructure support for the Clarence Valley.
The report described employee relocations to areas that underwent further cuts as ‘highly irresponsible’, adding that the NSW government should consider committing funds to justice reinvestment programs based in Grafton.
It went on to say that ‘should there be a need to build new correctional centres in the north of the state’ that Corrective Services NSW ‘give consideration to planning a new facility in the Clarence Valley region’.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis welcomed the inquiry, particularly the recommendation of investment.
‘The inquiry pretty well reflected what I was saying and what the community was saying,’ Mr Gulaptis said.
‘The big plus was that the committee came to Grafton and had a look at the facility, and brought the commissioner along so he could see physically what state it was in, and the fact it could be reopened.
‘But to reopen it we’re certainly going to have to see inmate numbers go up.
‘I think the minimum section of the jail could handle about 180 inmates so whether that’s big enough in terms of an economy of scale I’m not sure but the fact that Grafton has been a prison town since the 1850s, an expansion to accommodate more would be welcomed.’
The select committee which conducted the inquiry, the Closure or Downsizing of Corrective Services NSW Facilities, acknowledged that the bulk of submissions and evidence received from ‘inquiry participants related to the downsizing of the Grafton Correctional Centre, and in particular the lack of consultation with the community’.
‘Indeed, the evidence suggests that the decision to downsize the facility came as a shock to many, including to senior figures within the community such as the mayor and the local member of parliament,’ the report said.
The committee also supported a strategy to provide support to Indigenous inmates and their families adversely affected by isolation when relocated to a facility further away from their families and Country as a result of the closing or downsizing of a correctional centre.
‘The strategy should include mechanisms by which families can be provided support to increase their ability to visit inmates, as well as additional alternate methods to facilitate increased contact between inmates and their families,’ the committee recommended.
Corrective Services NSW were also called on to undertake comprehensive rural community impact statements as part of any future proposals to close or downsize correctional centres located in rural and regional NSW.
The report said the impact statements should include information about the projected social and economic impacts of the decision on local communities, including short, mid and long term impacts; and be submitted to Cabinet to assist in their consideration of proposals to downsize or close correctional facilities.