State’s prison issues need to be ironed out

Despite a $110 million rebuild more than a decade ago, Risdon Prison has had its fair share of issues and problems.

More recently, there have been media reports of lockdowns, overcrowding, staff shortages and bad behaviour.  But when correctional staff – and prisoners for that matter – are threatened or physically injured, more needs to be done to ensure their safety. 

In the past month, there have been at least two publicised incidents at the state’s only jail. In early August, prisoners refused to go back into their cells in protest over nicotine replacement patches being phased out at the facility. While no staff were hurt, one prisoner suffered minor cuts to the arm.

Last weekend, staff shortages led to another lockdown that created tension with prisoners. It was alleged that two frontline workers were assaulted, meaning that certain prisoners were unable to contact their families on Father’s Day.

Tasmania’s prison population has increased 10 per cent since 2015. From that population, 61 per cent have previously been imprisoned under sentence, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s Prisoners in Australia 2016 report.

No doubt incidences where prisoners revolt will continue – change needs to occur in our correctional sector, whether that be through reducing recidivism rates, or increasing Risdon Prison’s capacity.

The state government has moved to increase the staffing levels, recruiting 37 new officers since May last year. The Liberals have also funded 81 new prison beds in the recent budget. 

Labor has said that if it wins the March election, it will fund a prison facility in the North.

On Tuesday, Prison Action Reform Group spokesman Greg Barnes spoke to this masthead about the need for a Northern prison, while Independent Western Tiers MLC Greg Hall suggested that farmland around Ashley Youth Detention Centre could be used as a greenfield site. Other parties have said that Tasmania does not need another prison, instead more effective educational programs need to be implemented to support prisoners to transition their lives.

Any incident that ends in alleged assault is not on, and while prisoners are members of the community, they are there because they haven’t adhered to the law of the land. Prison is not a holiday where luxuries are afforded. If you do the crime, you do the time.