The announcement for growing Cessnock Jail came in the worst possible way – a newspaper front page story that surprised us all. It tells us a lot about how things are spinning out of control.
The Mayor, Cessnock Council General Manager and I met with the Minister just four weeks ago to discuss the then proposed 620 additional beds (announced in a similar way). At that time, there was clearly no knowledge or awareness for the Minister of these additional 400 maximum security beds.
I can say that, because I am extremely confident that he wasn’t lying to us.
A letterbox drop on Monday to nearby residents, following the front page story in the Newcastle Herald, had maps of the new jail expansion. The maps and letter attached were pretty small on detail. No mention of timelines, costs, further engagement with the community, traffic flows, operating hours, lighting, etc. Just a basic map that would have taken about 15 minutes to prepare.
There is no doubt that the prison system is in crisis. Extra beds and space is needed, as the Government has allowed crime rates to explode.
When you take money out of welfare programs, mental health programs, adult education programs, crisis centres, domestic violence services and a range of other support industries, you are essentially deserting our vulnerable and it is no real surprise that they are turning to crime.
So, yes, we absolutely need the extra beds. Sadly, yes sadly, there are now more than 12,000 people in NSW prisons.
Inmates cost us about $100,000 per head per year and consume $1 out of every $30 in our State Budget.
A large number of residents have been in touch objecting not only to the proposal but also contending that there has been insufficient time given for community consultation.
In response I will be holding a community meeting next Sunday, August 7, in the Auditorium at Cessnock Leagues Club, from 12pm and I would encourage all affected residents to attend.
An invitation has been extended to the Hon David Elliott, MP, NSW Corrections Minister, to attend.
However, there is some good news, as I and other community leaders have lobbied the NSW Corrections Minister and the public consultation period has been extended until COB on Monday 22 August, 2016.
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