Council was made aware around 12 months ago by Corrective Services NSW of an interest in expanding St Heliers Correctional Centre.
Council sought and obtained assurances from the Minister for Corrections, David Elliot, and local State Member, Michael Johnsen, that Council would be consulted well before the matter was progressed.
Until an article appeared on page three of the Newcastle Sunday on July 2, 2017, Council was unaware that the matter had progressed and certainly has not been invited to participate in any consultation.
Council has sought further briefings from the State Member’s office and Corrective Services NSW as well as the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) but has been unsuccessful, at this time, in securing a briefing – although the Regional office of DPC has indicated that it will arrange a briefing for Council as a matter of urgency.
It is understood the application will broadly include capacity for 400 maximum security classification inmates.
If such an application proceeds it will represent a substantial change in the operation of the present facility, which currently provides capacity for 286 minimum security classified inmates in what is essentially a pre-release prison. Despite commentary to the contrary, the families of inmates do not move to the local area in any significant number because, with few exceptions, inmates only come to the correctional facility for the last 6-12 months of their custodial sentences.
The existing correctional facility is exceptionally good. It provides a substantial proportion of the overall food supply for the State’s corrections system. It is one of the lowest cost corrective facilities in NSW and has an enormously positive impact on reducing repeat offending by providing inmates with job ready skills upon their release.
A more typical maximum security prison in the Upper Hunter would be capable of receiving inmates for the entirety of their custodial sentences and is very different in operation to the present correctional facility. It would have considerable social impacts on the wider community that would need to be carefully understood and managed.
Council again encourages the State Government to be open and transparent with its planning for the correctional facility if, for nothing else, to avoid suspicion that its lack of consultation is because an approval for the correctional facility is already a done deal.