Cessnock will be state's biggest jail

CESSNOCK Correctional Complex will become the largest jail in NSW under a major expansion plan proposed by the Baird government.

But the public service union has called the allocation of hundreds of new beds a “farce” that will fail to ease congestion in the state’s over-crowded prison system.

Cessnock will receive the bulk of a roll out of more than 1000 new beds across the state as part of a sector-wide reform announced by the Minister for Corrections David Elliott on Sunday.

The reforms will see prisons forced to meet performance targets or risk being handed over to the private sector.

Under the proposal the public and private sectors would compete for contracts to run jails based on criteria including assaults, time out of cells, and budget benchmarks.

Mr Elliott also announced that Cessnock jail will receive 620 new beds by August 2017, “the equivalent of a new prison”. On top of its current allocation of about 800 beds, the increase would mean it had a larger overall capacity than Goulburn or Long Bay.

The government announced last year that it would spend $10 million to build 80 pre-fabricated modular cells, but the 620 at Cessnock would represent a significant increase in their use in the state’s prison system. The modular cells are made at Cessnock and Muswellbrook jails by inmates, and can accommodate two medium-security prisoners. 

A spokesman for Corrective Services said the department would work out whether inmates were capable of producing the number of cells needed in the new allocation.  

A 2015 report on the state’s prison system found half of all jails are operating over capacity, but Steve McMahon from the Public Service Association said the modular cells would not help ease congestion in the system because the majority of demand is for remand and maximum security cells.

“The initial briefing that we received was that these would be hard-build cells for maximum security inmates,” he said.

“To hear talk of modular cells, which are not used to maximum security prisoners, is a farce.”

Barry Miller from the Cessnock Chamber of Commerce welcomed the announcement. “With the downturn in the mining sector it’s good to see any kind of diversification and job creation in Cessnock,” he said.