I wish to talk about the dire state of the corrections system in this state, specifically using the example of the proposed Mount Gambier Prison expansion. As honourable members would know, the Mount Gambier Prison is privately run by the private security firm G4S.
In the context of the government’s abandoning of the new prison project at Murray Bridge, and the subsequent payment of more than $10 million to the proposed builders of that project, all new prison expansion projects became crucially important to this state’s prison infrastructure. South Australia from prior to 2008 but especially since has faced a crisis of capacity in the prison system. We lack the infrastructure to keep current prisoners locked up, let alone any incoming prisoners.
The minister had to resort to bandaid on bullet wound measures, such as the use of shipping containers, to try to correct the problem. The reality is that only a new prison would fix the crisis. The minister does not seem to realise the seriousness of the situation, as he said on radio on 15 August:
I’m not saying it’s perfect…but we’re doing better than New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia combined…
I recently met with the Minister for Corrections in Victoria and the Attorney-General in New South Wales who have jurisdiction over prisons. In Victoria the government has realised that, in order to be tough on crime, more beds in the prison system are needed. New South Wales has had to close prisons in its jurisdiction due to a surplus in capacity.
It was joked that they could, perhaps, outsource some of their bed capacity to the South Australian government. I have inspected the Casuarina Prison in Western Australia and seen the commitment that the government there has to capacity and, in particular, the safety of the officers and the welfare of the prisoners; so, what a shameful situation exists in our state under this government.
Any spin about the Rann government being tough on crime is a complete fallacy. Serious and violent crime is on the increase and this government has nowhere to put these criminals. That brings me to the proposed expansion of the Mount Gambier Prison, a medium to low security prison, which, according to the department’s website, has a capacity of 139 prisoners, and currently holds 172 prisoners.
The Public Service Association’s Mr Peter Christopher has recently stated that prisons are at 95 per cent capacity. I would argue that the true value is a lot higher and could well be more than 100 per cent of the system’s intended capacity, with many cells converted into double or triple cells.
The member for West Torrens in the other place, the Minister for Correctional Services, announced on 3 March 2009 an $18 million expansion of the Mount Gambier Prison, adding 116 new beds. Later that month, the department advised the ABC that the prison would be expanded by 116 beds.
Over a year later, on 10 August 2010, the minister again announced a major expansion planned for Mount Gambier, which will provide about 100 additional beds. On 6 January of this year, the minister stated that the current focus for this government is on the implementation by 2012-13 of an additional 232 beds. This includes the original 116 beds announced two years ago.
What has happened during those two years? Why wasn’t work started on the expansion? It is hard to believe that after two whole years this government is no closer to fulfilling its promise to expand the Mount Gambier Prison by 116 beds, but it is completely unthinkable to believe that it should take a further two years to complete.
Following this super announcement, the minister was obviously informed by the Treasurer that there was not as much money as they first thought and he announced that the government is looking at deploying modular accommodation at the Mount Gambier Prison. Is this in addition to the 116 beds already promised? Obviously, no concrete plans have been formed if the minister can just announce on a whim that the government is now looking at shipping containers.
The budget papers, released in July of this year, state that planned prison upgrades to prisoner accommodation totalling $32 million are to be completed by June 2013, by which time it would have been four whole years since the project was first announced and prison capacity would be under even more pressure.
Finally, the minister announced on 15 August, just over a month ago, that plans were underway for a 118-bed expansion of the Mount Gambier Prison. So, the minister has changed the number, or maybe he was confused. He has re-announced plans for the expansion, the same announcement that he made over two years earlier, and the end result is that the prison system is still in crisis.
This upgrade has been talked about for years now. The people of Mount Gambier, the rest of this state, those involved in correctional services and the opposition now want to know just when this expansion will be built, how much it will cost and how many prisoners it will hold. Putting political rhetoric aside, this is about the welfare of law abiders and the rehabilitation of law breakers in this state. A healthy functioning corrections system leads to a healthy functioning society and that is what I, the opposition and the people of this state want to see.