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(l-r) Associate Professor Pauline Clague, Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson, Debbie Kilroy and Dr Andrew Binns comprised the panel at a forum about the soon to be completed Clarence Correctional Centre. Image: Contributed

Fears new prison will severely stretch health and social services

Janet Grist|

A forum to discuss the effects the new Clarence Correction Centre (CCC) will have on the community was held last Saturday December 6 at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in South Grafton.

The forum focussed on the impact the gaol will have on women, Indigenous women in particular.

About 40 people, representing a broad cross-section of the community, attended, including Clarence Valley councillors, Debrah Novak and Greg Clancy.

The SERCO-run gaol will house 1,400 men and 300 women, at least 100 of whom will be Aboriginal women.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has described it as “the fourth largest town in the Clarence Valley”.

The forum was organised by local activists, Colin and Joyce Clague, and chaired by Associate Professor Pauline Clague from the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

The expert panel was comprised of: Bundjalung woman, Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson, an expert in intergenerational trauma and healing; Debbie Kilroy OAM, a lawyer and CEO of Sisters Inside; and, Dr Andrew Binns, a GP at Jullums Aboriginal Health Service in Lismore who cares for residents of Balunda, a residential diversionary program for Aboriginal men located on a farm in the Clarence Valley.

One of the broader issues raised was the number of extra people that the community will have to provide services for, with health, housing, welfare and social services already perceived to be over-stretched.

Ms Kilroy said there’d be an influx of women and children moving to the Clarence Valley to support their loved ones who are incarcerated in the new facility.

These families, she said, would be under-privileged and have their own mental health and chronic disease problems.

She feared that many of these people would be unable to find jobs, adding to local unemployment.

Citing a Deloitte report, she said that around 140 people would be discharged from the new gaol each month and that a sharp rise in homelessness across the region would be a likely outcome.

“Sadly, Aboriginal women who are incarcerated don’t only lose their freedom but their children as well,” Ms Kilroy said. Further community meetings are planned to discuss issues raised by the new prison and how these might be addressed.