The number of prisoner transfers to Wollongong courthouse has jumped fourfold in 20 years, the prison officers’ union says.
In the same period, the Corrective Services officers required to escort them to and from courtrooms increased from 12 to about 17.
The staggering statistics come after the Mercury revealed this week a severe shortage of Corrective Services staff was threatening to bring trials at the courthouse to a standstill.
Public Service Association (PSA) south-east regional organiser Tony Heathwood has been told by members the court’s security unit was staffed by 12 officers in 1995/96, who handled about 1000 prisoner transfers to the court.
Now, 17 staff deal with about 5500 movements a year. The courthouse’s $17.5 million upgrade just opened, but internal staffing woes go back years.
Mr Heathwood labelled the problem a “by-product” of an overcrowded jail system. “Staff there have made numerous attempts to highlight the issue and get it fixed,” he said. Wollongong typically sits daily with three local courts and one district court operating.
On Monday, there were only enough prison officers to service two of five custodial courts operating. The law requires prisoners to be escorted to and from courtrooms by two Corrective Services officers.
In a statement, Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) said the number of staff on any given day depends on the number required for the “safe operation of the court”. “Inmate to staff ratios are maintained with numbers based on risk assessments and operational needs. There are 16 full-time staff assigned to the court and extra casual officers are provided when CSNSW is given notice that additional courts will operate,” the statement said.
A NSW Justice spokeswoman said every courtroom was fitted with audio visual link technology, which “allows bail applications to be heard from prison, reducing the need to transport inmates to court and saving taxpayers millions of dollars.”