Department must meaningfully consult on Goulburn Jail benchmarking | Editorial

Corrective Services has a clear choice if it is reducing custodial staff numbers at Goulburn Correctional Centre.

It must also cut inmate numbers in the main part of the prison by either reclassifying them for the new high risk management unit and multipurpose centre, or move them to other facilities.

The current benchmarking process is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs. The only trouble is that inmate numbers in the the old section will stay the same with fewer officers to do the job. Far from achieving the efficiencies that this process sets out to achieve, it will further endanger officers’ lives in a highly volatile environment.

During his visit to Goulburn last month, Corrections Minister David Elliot categorically ruled out relocating prisoners to relieve overcrowding. 

The Department will argue that overall numbers will not decrease at the facility. Current numbers across custodial and corrections, offender services programs, non-custodial and work programs stand at 316, whereas there will be 323 positions after benchmarking.

This may be true but the new high-risk management unit, adding to the existing one, and the multi-purpose unit will soak up 85 positions.

The union is well founded in its concerns about prison officer safety in the existing prison. What matters most is the number of officers available on any one day to deal with incidents, including the increasing flare-up of violence. If a senior correctional officer is not there on the ground to make a critical call, who does the job under the restructure?

We do not dispute the need to find efficiencies within the system. The Department has said benchmarking was aimed at “improving standards, accountability, efficiency of operations and reducing inmate re-offending.” 

But in this case, the proposal now out for consultation does not appear to achieve that. Unless the department has a detailed response to concerns, which it is not telling us about, the plan is a recipe for disaster.

It’s telling that a former governor of Grafton Jail, John Heffernan strongly criticised the government’s benchmarking against the private sector.

“I believe it to be nothing more than a shameful cost saving exercise,” he wrote.

Predictably, the powerful union movement agrees. Meaningful consultation to strike a middle road is the only way ahead.