Following the announcement of the preferred site for the $270 million Northern Regional Prison, there has been considerable discussion about the government's choice and unfortunate fear-mongering by some elected representatives and commentators.
We recognise that people, naturally, can feel concerned about large new projects in their backyard, particularly a correctional centre. However, it has been disappointing that a small number of individuals, most notable representatives of the Labor Party, have sought to run an immediate scare campaign which is devoid of any facts or foundation.
As Corrections Minister, I want to set the record straight and ensure the North and North-West regions that community safety is this government's number one priority in building the new facility. The new prison will be a maximum-security facility, but will also accommodate within it all classifications of sentenced prisoners including medium and minimum, as well as those on remand.
Risdon Prison will maintain its status as a maximum and medium-security prison in addition to the Ron Barwick minimum-security prison which is located on the same Southern site. Any suggestion that all maximum prisoners will be sent north when the new prison is built is completely false and only seeks to scare the community.
Importantly, no prisoner has ever escaped the maximum-medium security Risdon Prison since it was constructed in 2006.
Claims that visitors to the new prison will cause crime rates to increase in and around Westbury are also incorrect. Studies undertaken in New South Wales do not support this. The majority of visitors to correction centres are law-abiding citizens.
For example, analysis of crime statistics during the eight years after the opening of the Lithgow Correction Centre in NSW demonstrated that crime decreased in Lithgow by 5 per cent, while it increased by 25 per cent across all of NSW during the same period. Following initial consultation, there have been concerns about the new prison attaching a certain stigma to Westbury.
Research in other jurisdictions has shown that following the establishment of a prison facility, there has not been a negative impact on the image of the region and surrounds.
Research shows that a facility of this type has led to a more positive image of the town amongst its residents as a result of the direct and indirect employment opportunities and economic development.
Additionally, the prison footprint will be about 13 hectares, while the entire preferred site is about 41 hectares. The extra land and zoning provides a significant buffer from any adjoining properties. The site will be landscaped, and the facility designed in a way to ensure it is aesthetically pleasing and compatible with its surroundings in terms of colour and structure. About property prices, experience regarding new prisons built in other parts of Australia has shown that property prices in the surrounding areas experienced an increase in value.
Prices reflect a range of factors, including the quality of housing stock, access to jobs and services, and broader market conditions. The increase of employees, service providers and others coming to work, provide services or visit in the region may have a positive impact on property prices if they decide to live near their workplace.
Further, the project is expected to create hundreds of jobs during construction and will employ around 250 people permanently once in full operation. It is also the government's expectation that eligible people from the north and North-West region will have priority for employment opportunities within the new facility.
The government will support the local economy through the use of local contractors, suppliers and staff wherever possible.
Many local businesses such as cafes, the supermarket, petrol stations and other service-based businesses are also expected to be enormous beneficiaries.
There have been claims that the government could have selected the Ashley Youth Detention Centre site.It would be entirely inappropriate to co-locate a youth justice facility next to an adult prison. Such a practice is in contravention of international human rights conventions.
Article 37(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides, in part, that "every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so".
Importantly, as to the consultation timeframe, I wish to assure the community that it began at the earliest time possible.
All submissions made via the EOI process were subject to commercial in confidence assessment and negotiations, and as such, confidentiality had been maintained.
This type of agreement is common practice in dealing with property negotiations, both private and commercial, and has long been standard practice of all governments.
Once a preferred site that met all criteria was identified, the community consultation began with residents in and around the surrounding area. Upon announcing the preferred site on September 30, the government immediately commenced its planned community consultation program. I encourage all interested residents and community members to attend the next community drop-in scheduled for Friday, October 18 from 12pm-7pm at the Fitzpatrick Inn.
- Corrections Minister Elise Archer.