WRAP - No prison in Westbury

Justice Dept's annual report shows $4.3 million extra spent looking after increased prison population

By Helen Kempton
The Mercury
16 October 2020

Tasmania's prison system is overcrowded and the cost of feeding and looking after the higher prisoner population increased by $4.3 million last financial year.

A sustained increase in Tasmania's prisoner population meant the Tasmanian Prison Service needed an extra $4.3 million in government funds to cover higher food, water, power, staff and escort costs in 2019-2020.

In his annual report, Custodial Inspector Richard Connock said overcrowding and double bunking in single person cells and triple bunking in doubles cells increased tension in prisons and made life harder for staff.

Minimum security prisoners were also being kept in medium and maximum security prisons because of overcrowding, Mr Connock said.

The Greens said the Resources and Systems Inspection Report of Adult Custodial Services in Tasmania made 16 damning observations and 64 recommendations.

"Almost one in five staff members have active compensation claims, with the report finding a poor management culture for handling workers' compensation, and staff on compensation being treated unlawfully," Rosalie Woodruff said.

"The report also identifies continued poor record-keeping that has previously led to prisoners being released at the incorrect time."

"We have a corrections system that is harming staff, the people in custody and the wider community through a reduction in safety. It is not changing behaviours or reducing recidivism."

The number of serious assaults on both prison staff increased but the number of assaults overall fell.

Three serious assaults against prison staff were recorded in 2019-20 compared to zero the year before while the number of serious assaults among prisoners climbed from 13 to 16.

Four people escaped custody in 2019-2020.

The Justice Department's annual report also showed the number of released prisoners who returned to jail after less than two years on the outside (47.1 per cent) was higher in Tasmania than the national average (46.4 per cent).

COVID-19 impacted on Tasmania's prison system with visits to the prison stopped and prisoner gardening services postponed.

The annual report also showed the number of people subject to electronic monitoring has doubled since the technology was first introduced in Tasmania in 2018-19.

Sixty one people were fitted with the technology last financial year and half of them were family violence offenders.

Millions were also spent appointing new magistrates to replace retired staff and work on a serious backlog in the State's court system.

The department spent $172,000 last financial year to fund the appointment of Magistrate Jackie Hartnett. An additional $921,000 will be provided from 2020-21 to provide administrative support to her and enhance court security.

Another $496,000 went towards replacing a fixed-term part-time magistrate in the North West.

Another $1.4 million was provided over two years to support acting judges in the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department listed its highlights for 2019-2020 as the start of construction on the $70 million Southern Remand Centre and progress in planning, and a new site, for the Northern Regional Prison at Westbury.

There were also legislative reforms to support victims of sexual assault and the one punch assault laws.

Tasmania has also removed the ability for a member of the religious ministry to rely on the confessional privilege to refuse to disclose information.


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