New guidelines issued by the Commissioner of Corrective Services will see inmates in NSW prisons housed in some of the smallest cells in the country. The guidelines also get around the current systemic overcrowding in prisons in NSW by redefining overcrowded cells to be compliant with the law. The new legislation allows the prison system to set its own low minimum cell size standards with the new standards having two-up cells (where two inmates are housed together) 2.25 square metres smaller than the existing national minimum standard.
The changes were made following an amendment to the public health regulation which used to specify the rules for sleeping accommodation and cell sizes across the board but which was recently amended to require the Commissioner for Corrective Services to set standards for correctional facilities.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“There’s a reason public health legislation has minimum accommodation standards, it’s because chronic overcrowding creates health issues, not least with contagious diseases.
“For more than 25 years the agreed national minimum standard for a 2 person cell is 12.75 square metres, this new directive cuts that back to just 10.5 square metres and allows a third inmate when there is a so called “population surge.”
“These amendments are in clear breach of accepted national standards, and will make our prisons less safe for both inmates and guards.
“After decades of law and order politics in NSW our prisons are seriously overcrowded, and the Baird Government’s solution is simply to redefine overcrowding as the new normal.
“Overcrowded prisons are new redefined as complying with these new minimum requirements.
“We know that there are plans to build new prisons in NSW – if these are built following the new rules they will be too small and in breach of national standards. We will be building human rights abuses into our prison system.
“There is a large body of evidence that overcrowding in prisons is a danger to the wellbeing of inmates and to the safety of prison officers.
“Given many prisoners in NSW spend upwards of 16 hours in their cells, making these cells even smaller with have a substantial impact.
“The Government risks creating a powder keg in our prisons unless they step in and address the actual overcrowding there, rather than simply trying to redefine it out of existence,” Mr Shoebridge said.