WRAP - No prison in Westbury

'Not another Risdon': Prisoners Legal Service urges restorative justice approach for Northern Regional Prison

By Adam Holmes
The Examiner
12 October 2020

In 2018, an independent report described conditions at Risdon Prison as "degrading" with a range of health and safety concerns.

The requirement for a new prison in Tasmania's North should be seen as an opportunity to shift the state's approach to rehabilitation and recidivism, and follow world-leading examples, the Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania believes.

The service reiterated its call for Ashley Youth Detention Centre to be shut down, and for the site to be repurposed for a centre which offered mental health, health and education support for adult prisoners in a highly secure environment.

PLST chair Greg Barns SC will outline his ideas, drawing upon international examples of restorative justice, during a community talk in Deloraine on Sunday organised by Westbury Region Against the Prison.

Reports have also called into question the effectiveness of Ashley Youth Detention Centre in helping at-risk children avoid entering the adult prison system.

Mr Barns said Tasmania needed to avoid creating another Risdon Prison. "The government needs to take lessons from Scandinavia, Scotland and even the United States - like North Dakota and Oregon - which is to create a centre totally focused on rehabilitation and education, and sends people back into the community with a very low risk of reoffending," he said.

"To simply replicate Risdon would be to ensure that the current recidivism rate in Tasmania remains one of the highest in the nation.

"This is an opportunity for the government to embrace new ideas and to abandon the failed 19th century model of a prison."

Last year it was revealed that Tasmania's recidivism rate was growing the fastest of any state or territory, with 46.3 per cent of prisoners back behind bars within two years.

The state's prisoner population also increased from 451 in 2014 to 666 in 2019.

Overcrowding at Risdon - including instances of three prisoners in one-person cells - along with regular lockdowns, had heightened safety issues for staff and resulted in ballooning overtime figures.

Mr Barns said the state must adopt the approach of reducing the prisoner population - and that could only be achieved with programs that reduced the likelihood of reoffending through properly funded rehabilitation.

He said the government had made a bad start by choosing a site that was opposed by a broad segment of the community, meaning it did not have "social license".

A government spokesperson said the 270-bed maximum security Northern Regional Prison would offer "a suite of rehabilitation programs similar to and building on those currently offered at Risdon".

"The Tasmania Prison Service consistently looks to world's best practice models when planning, delivering and refining its rehabilitative programs. It will draw on this extensive research in the design and operating models for the Northern Regional Prison," the spokesperson said.

"Access to family visits and other supports is regarded as crucial to rehabilitation and the Northern Regional Prison will ensure that families of prisoners from the North and North-West of the State will be able to visit more regularly."

The government did not respond to a question about the prison's level of capacity upon completion.


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