Union gears up for fight over Goulburn Jail jobs

A benchmarking process is underway at Goulburn Jail.
A benchmarking process is underway at Goulburn Jail.

Goulburn Jail officers will be forced to deal with overcrowding and associated violence with less staff if planned “benchmarking” goes ahead, a union claims.

The NSW Prison Officers Vocational branch is shaping up for further action if staff numbers are cut next month.

Chair Nicole Jess said the Department of Corrective Services was undertaking benchmarking, as it had with several other NSW prisons. The facility would have to meet key targets on more out of cell hours for maximum security inmates (7.3 hours/day), reduced staff sick leave, extra programs for inmates, the number of health issues addressed and a reduction in recidivism rates.

“They call it benchmarking but realistically, it is job cuts,” Ms Jess said.  

“...We have two main concerns – the classification of the jail, which is maximum security, dealing with the worst of the worst, and that we’ll be asked to do the same job with less numbers.”

Ms Jess said in a regional city like Goulburn, any losses would impact heavily and have flow-on effects.

The Department is due to release the results of the review and required numbers for the main part of the jail on February 28 and those for Supermax on March 1. Ms Jess said judging by benchmarking in other facilities, the number of senior correctional officers looking after wings could be cut by one-third to a half.

She argued this was a recipe for disaster in a facility that was already “1000 inmates” over its 12,000 prisoner capacity. Ms Jess said the assistant superintendents’ role would also be phased out in stages with benchmarking, removing a vital managerial position. Goulburn Jail had 12 to 17 assistant superintendents.

“We already have overcrowding but the Department is virtually saying we can deal with this with fewer numbers,” she said.

Ms Jess told The Post that a fight erupted between two inmates in a yard last Thursday. One had part of his ear bitten off before officers deployed tear gas. The prisoner was taken to Goulburn Base Hospital, she said.

It was just one in a line of violent outbreaks, including a fight between five inmates in January, 2016 and another in the same month between two Polynesian groups. 

The union has previously raised overcrowding concerns with the Department and subsequent talks arrived at some staffing solutions.

Ms Jess said the union had taken its most recent concerns to the Industrial Relations Commission. However the Commission had no power to deal with the matter, saying it was managerial discretion.

The local POVB delegate is planning to meet with Goulburn MP Pru Goward.

Meantime, a Corrective Services spokesman said the benchmarking program, announced in 2015, was aimed at “improving standards, accountability, the efficiency of operations and reducing inmate re-offending.” 

“Benchmarking will enable CSNSW for the first time to determine if individual prisons are meeting performance targets while taking into account the age and condition of the facility,” he said.

“This way of operating is standard in many other government agencies, and it enables organisations to be more efficient and focus on their key goals.”

Contrary to union claims, he said staff safety was a prime consideration and in several facilities staff numbers had increased as a result of the benchmarking. 

“The sort of changes necessary to achieve improvements will vary between centres, but include: changes to operational practices; changes to shift arrangements; changes to management structures; and improved use of technology. Nothing will be done that will reduce the security and safety of Goulburn, HRMCC (Supermax) or any other correctional centre,” he said.

The Department also pointed to its $47 million upgrade over three years of Goulburn Jail, including a High Risk Management Correctional Centre and a multi-purpose unit, aimed at enhancing counter-terrorism capacity. 

“The expansion will create new jobs at the complex,” the spokesman said.

Corrective Services has also stood by its strategies to reduce overcrowding and recidivism. Some 1000 beds had been created since 2016 at the Hunter and Macquarie Correctional Centres and through recommissioning of facilities at Berrima, Unanderra and Lidcombe. Expansion was also underway at the South Coast, Parklea, Long Bay, Cessnock, Junee and Mid North Coast correctional centres. 

In addition, it was rolling out a $237m program to reduce re-offending over four years. This included more rehabilitation programs and enhanced supervision for priority offenders, with emphasis on the period before and after release.

“Ten High Intensity Program Units at correctional centres around the state will deliver programs annually to more than 1,200 male and female inmates, with a priority for those sentenced to six months or less,” the spokesman said.

The Department has scotched union claims that Goulburn Jail could be privatised if it didn’t meet benchmarking, saying there were no plans to do so.   

The spokesman also confirmed last Thursday’s fight but said the inmates complied with staff directions. A 24-year-old prisoner was taken to Goulburn Base Hospital. No charges had been laid.

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