Deputy Premier and Minister for Justice and Police Troy Grant and Minister for Corrections David Elliott last week said that Grafton would get a new prison by 2019.
Mr Grant announced that $1.2 billion for the prison system would be included in this week’s state budget.
The government plans to build a 600-bed prison on a new greenfield site (yet to be ascertained) that will be managed as a private-public partnership.
The government said it will budget $20million over the next four years for the project.
Mr Grant also announced that Parklea Correctional Centre would gain 400 new beds.
He said that changes to the bail laws had contributed to the rising prison population.
A NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (April 2014) bureau brief said the “key factors responsible for the recent rise in the NSW prison population appear to be a higher rate of arrest for serious crime and an increase in the proportion of convicted offenders given a prison sentence”.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said in a statement that the announcement was a “shot in the arm for the Clarence Valley”.
“This is terrific news for Grafton because it will provide jobs throughout the construction phase, a sustained workforce into the future and will help to underpin the economy of the Clarence Valley,” he said.
“Corrections has long been an important part of the economic and social fabric of our region and I’m thrilled the NSW Government has taken this major step forward to strengthen its role.”
“I also want to thank the community for its support and commitment to this crucial industry for our region.”
Mr Grant gave credit to Mr Gulaptis for fighting “tirelessly to secure a strong NSW Government commitment to corrections in Grafton”.
The Labor opposition put an entirely different spin on the announcement.
Shadow minister for corrections Guy Zangari said in a statement that the “Liberals are just chasing media headlines”.
“Minister Elliott wants to wave around a cheque for $20 million and hope nobody notices this commitment is only for planning,” he said.
“If these new prisons ever do see the light of day, it won’t be for another three of four years – that won’t help the overcrowding in our prisons today, tomorrow or even next year.
“[Last week’s] zinger is reports of a new prison to be built in Grafton – just years after the Liberals downsized the existing Grafton gaol.
“People in Grafton have been placed on a rollercoaster ride since the surprise downgrade [to a remand centre] … in 2012.
“Why was a public prison downgraded, and 100 jobs lost, only to have a privately-run prison in the works a few years later?
“A properly run prison system does not need more privatisation.”
Meanwhile, in April this year, the Public Service Association (PSA) called for the reopening of the Grafton gaol, “as a maximum security facility to ease dangerous overcrowding in NSW correctional facilities”.
The PSA’s general secretary, Anne Gardiner, wrote to the Premier, saying it would make “smart use of an existing facility”.
Last week, she said in a statement that the government’s announcement was a “waste of billions of dollars on building new private jails when an existing government-run facility sits virtually empty”.
She said Grafton gaol could be reopened “quickly and at low cost”.
“It’s is not about solving the long-standing overcrowding problem in prisons; it is about creating opportunities for big business,” she said.
“Publically-run gaols in NSW are the most cost effective in the country once you take into consideration the range of programs provided which reduce repeat offenders.
“These programs include domestic violence prevention programs and anger management.”
Clarence Valley Council released a statement describing the news as “another exciting dimension to what is already going to be a period of high infrastructure spending and economic growth in the Clarence Valley”.
“We now have a multi-billion dollar highway development, a multimillion dollar Grafton bridge development, a new bridge at Sportsmans Creek, multimillion dollar aged care facilities, a gaol and a host of other developments in the pipeline,” the mayor, Richie Williamson, said.
“There are economic spin-offs for the entire Clarence Valley.
The mayor thanked Corrections Minister David Elliott “for the faith he has shown in the Clarence Valley and its workforce”, the Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis, “for championing the cause” and the valley’s people “for the support they have always demonstrated for a project like this”.
“We will work with the NSW Government to identify suitable land for a new gaol and provide whatever other assistance we can to make sure there are no unnecessary stumbling blocks to work starting,” he said.