Cessnock’s new prison, the Hunter Correctional Centre, was commissioned on Tuesday.
Construction of the 400-bed maximum-security prison began in October 2016 and took just 54 weeks to complete.
Built next to the Cessnock Correctional Centre, the new prison will create about 220 new jobs.
The rapid-build prison concept features four wings, each with four secure dormitory pods housing 25 inmates.
Officers have been testing the facility since construction finished in October to ensure safety and security.
Inmates are expected to start moving in around mid-February, and will be transitioned in over an eight-week period.
The prison is equipped with more than 600 CCTV cameras and three perimeter fences.
“It is one of the safest centres for staff and inmates throughout the state,” Hunter Correctional Centre Governor Richard Heycock said.
Correctional officers monitor inmates around the clock from first-floor corridors overlooking the pods and with infra-red cameras for night monitoring; and Immediate Action Team officers are stationed within the facility to provide a 24/7 response to critical incidents.
The inmates' days have been carefully structured in a way that focuses on intense participation and access to education, employment, programs and activities.
The centre offers opportunities to gain qualifications and experience in business, fitness, warehousing, cleaning, operations and hospitality.
Each inmate will engage in an industry (such as heavy or light engineering, upholstery, maintenance and grounds, and food services) for at least five hours each day.
“All of this assists in our goal of reducing reoffending across the state,” Mr Heycock said.
Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin said inmate routines will be in education, employment or rehabilitation programs for up to 12 hours a day, compared to six hours a day at similar centres.
Mr Severin said inmates will be carefully screened – and if they don’t fit the profile, will be placed elsewhere.
He said consultation with the Cessnock community had been an important part of the project and would continue now the prison is operational.
“We’re very committed to ensuring that wherever we go and whatever we do meets the expectations of the community,” he said.
“We want to be a good corporate citizen.”
Minister for Corrections David Elliott, who conducted the opening, said it was a significant investment in the community of Cessnock.
“The staff will make a very positive contribution to the community, and will ensure the facility remains safe, secure and fit for purpose,” he said.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said it was fantastic to see 220 new jobs at the prison, and that most of these new employees would live in the local community.
Cr Pynsent said it was important that the ongoing issue of access to the site be sorted.
The Hunter Correctional Centre is the second rapid-build prison in Australia, following the opening of the Wellington facility in December.
These prisons form part of the NSW Government's $3.8 billion infrastructure program, supporting the recruitment of more than 1400 new custodial officers and about 100 community corrections officers across the state.
Shadow Corrections Minister Guy Zangari labelled the rapid-build prisons a “quick fix” to the state’s record prison inmate population.
“The prison system is only designed to house 11,000 and the Berejiklian Government thinks it is OK to shove another 2000 on top of that without offering any long term solution,” he said.
“Pop-up prisons will certainly put the health and welfare of staff at potential risk with new security systems that don’t work, questionable external cladding and untested dormitory-style accommodation.
“Band-aid solutions won’t work.”
Mr Elliott said the rapid-build facilities will bring the NSW correctional system into the 21st century and solve capacity problems by focusing on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.
“It is a new, innovative, cost-effective way of constructing prisons,” he said.
The Hunter Correctional Centre is part of a three-phase expansion project, which also includes a 330-bed extension to the existing maximum security wing and a new 280-bed minimum-security facility at the Cessnock site.