The union representing prison workers in NSW has declared support for building more jails amid debate over the proposal to place one at Kembla Grange.
However, former parole officer and Public Services Association (PSA) assistant general secretary Troy Wright says there are still many questions to be asked about whether the West Dapto area is the right spot for a prison.
Speaking to residents who attended a public forum organised by Labor MP Anna Watson on Saturday, Mr Wright said the PSA supported the expansion of jails in NSW.
“Our union supports the need for prison beds,” he said, noting the state’s prison population of 13,000 was growing fast.
“We need more jails, we need more jobs. Jails are a fantastic boon for regional communities.”
For instance, he said Cooma, in the Snowy Mountains, “almost died” when its prison closed for three years in the late 90s, because the cash flow from prison officers and prisoners was ripped out of the town.
“You had about 80 prison officers all on $80,000 to $100,000 each in the town, plus the local prison population purchased all their groceries at the local stores,” he said.
However, he also said he believed this “economic boom” from prison related jobs would not have the same effect in a place like Kembla Grange, as people would travel from the South Coast and other areas of the Illawarra to work in the jail.
Mr Wright also provided anti-jail campaigners with a list of questions to ask about the NSW Government’s Kembla Grange proposal, warning that – if the jail were to be privately run – there were “a lot less jobs in the private sector”.
He said there were three jails in NSW run by the private sector, including the new one being built in Grafton.
“The private sector are disastrous at running jails, so you need to find this out,” he said.
“You may be opposed to a jail, but let me guarantee you, you will be really opposed to a jail that is on your doorstep run poorly by the private sector with no local work coming out of it.”
He also said residents should ask the government how big the jail would be on the proposed site, and find out what type of security levels there would be.
“You don’t want the cells coming right up to the perimeter,” he said.
Mr Wright also flagged traffic and transport as a major issue, saying a prison of 1000 beds would have a staff of 300-400 as well as deliveries, visitors, prison trucks, lawyers, and emergency services vehicles.