Cessnock MP Clayton Barr has called on the NSW Government to acknowledge the effect expanding Cessnock jail will have on the city’s police response.
Up to 1000 more inmates are set to call the Cessnock facility home after the expansion is complete in the next few years. A 400-bed maximum security facility is on track for completion by the end of 2017.
A review by Corrective Services NSW found there was “no evidence that the prison expansion will lead to rising crime rates, inmates' families moving to the area or inmates staying in town after their release.”
However Mr Barr said most of the jail will be maximum security with long term inmates, meaning families were more likely to move to be near their relatives.
The MP also said police were regularly called to the jail to deal with new crime such as contraband and assaults, as well as ongoing investigations with inmates, which would only increase with more prisoners.
“If you double the size, you’ll more than double the amount of times police are called up there,” he said.
Mr Barr said this would mean the already overstretched police force would not be on the streets to protect the regular community.
In light of this, the MP said he believed the government needed to reevaluate how police numbers were allocated.
He said numbers were allocated based on population, not crime figures.
“They need to support areas where workload and crime rates require additional police,” he said.
He said this sort of model would result in a huge boost to the Central Hunter, which was in the top three commands in terms of work load.
NSW Police Association president Scott Weber said even the current model left commands short of officers.
He said NSW had the lowest police to population ratio of any state in the country.
“We need an extra 247 police officers [across NSW] to cope with population growth,” he said.
Mr Weber said crimes such as domestic violence and ice were a major problem in the Hunter. He said police should be taking a proactive approach to target them, but simply did not have the resources to do so.
“They should be out there and be visible, walking the streets,” he said. We want to stop the problem before it starts.”
“Police are going from job to job to job. They’re just keeping their heads above water.”