A Eurobodalla solicitor says prisons are “overflowing” and blames changes to the NSW Bail Act.
Geoff Knox has acted in the shire for more than 20 years and said the system was “full of people who have not been found guilty” and people who should be in psychiatric hospitals.
He wants the Bail Amendment Act of 2014 itself amended.
“Overcrowding has been an issue for a while, but is getting out of control,” Mr Knox said.
“The changes to the bail act in the past year have put a lot more people, who would have, before, been released on bail, refused.
“They aren’t serving a term of imprisonment. They are waiting for their trials.
“There are now a number of offences (for which) you have to show cause why you should be released.
He is calling on the NSW Government to amend the Act.
“I would like the bail act amended so people who have not been found guilty are not spending a year in jail being shifted around while their case is heard,” Mr Knox said.
“The biggest issue for me is people on remand spending all that time in jail and at the end of it being found not guilty.”
Those who are found guilty and given a prison sentence are often moved around as well, Mr Knox said.
“They are getting shifted all the time so they can’t start programs,” he said.
“To me, the whole idea of putting someone in jail is to make sure they don’t get put in jail again. Teach them skills.”
He said a female client was recently isolated in the South Coast Correctional Centre, Nowra, because there was no space in a women’s prison.
“She spent just on two weeks in isolation because there was no room at Silverwater,” Mr Knox said.
“About two weeks ago, a male who was bail refused, spent five days in the cells in Batemans Bay Police Station. The bed is a concrete slab with a foam pad. The cells are not made for more than an overnight stay.”
Mr Knox said families and representatives were also affected.
“There is no guarantee where our clients will be the night after an appearance,” Mr Knox said.
“Families have no real idea of where they are going to be,” Mr Knox said.
“They move them to wherever there is room. They can start in Nowra, so the family will organise to go and see them but, bang, they are in Wellington.
“At least 30 per cent of the prison population are there because they have mental health issues,” he said.
“They need to pump more money into mental health treatment.
“They are making good prisoners, not treating their issues.”
Mr Knox said elderly parents with schizophrenic children in their 30s were too scared to ring the police.
“Elderly parents who are trying to control a 30-year-old schizophrenic male child who has lots of episodes,” he said.
“It gets violent and there is no psychiatric help for them.
“The parents are terrified and have to call the police. The police aren’t mental health workers.
“The parents are put in the horrible situation of knowing if they call the police, their child will go to jail.”
NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott said a “strategy to accommodate the needs of a rising prisoner population, included a new 600-bed facility and expanding Parklea by 400 beds; 1,985 beds were funded in March 2014. Another 100 beds were opened to ease “pressure on the system”.
“If an offender is refused bail and there is a delay in locating a prison bed then court and police cells can be used as temporary accommodation.
“Corrective Services is working with police on to ensure the delays are managed.”
A NSW Corrective Services spokesperson said there was currently 12,200 people in jail.
“About 25 per cent of those identify as Aboriginal,” they said.