In the latest example of the effects of prison overcrowding, a District Court judge has been forced to release an alleged drug supplier on bail due to a lack of resources in prisons and remand centres.
The unnamed man appeared before Judge Paul Conlon at the Downing Centre District Court in relation to charges of supplying ‘ice’.
His Honour was minded to revoke the man’s bail after he turned up to court two hours late, but after his associate made inquiries with prisons across the state during the luncheon adjournment, he was informed that there was no prison or remand centre that could conduct a mental health assessment on the man. Accordingly, the Judge was forced to release him back into the community for assessment.
The Judge Conlon remarked in open court:
‘It appears we have reached a point where the wheels of justice not only have had the brakes put on by virtue of this untenable position concerning the lack of custodial accommodation but so dire are the consequences in respect of this case that the wheels of justice have been prevented from even rotating.’
Corrective Services NSW hit back at the claims, saying that there were 20 spare beds at the Surry Hills remand centre. But his Honour slammed that statement, saying:
‘Fortunately as a judge I’m not in the business of spin so that means I can tell it as it is…If someone from Corrective Services wants to come into court and tell me that it was possible for him to receive a mental health assessment in the holding cells of Surry Hills, well I will welcome them into the court and I will apologise profusely.’
In Police Holding Cells with Nowhere to Go
The prison overcrowding issue is so dire that some bail courts have been forced to close their doors due to a lack of prison space.
On October 30, Parramatta Bail Court was closed for the first time because prisons are so overcrowded that are unable to accept new inmates from police custody.
Around 40 people who were arrested the previous night were unable to have their bail determined, and were forced to remain in police custody at the Surry Hills Remand Centre and Amber Vale Correctional Centre. This is despite legislation stating that an accused person who is refused bail by police must be brought before a court ‘as soon as practicable’.
Corrective Services responded to the situation by saying that:
‘Delays in receiving offenders occasionally occur. In these cases offenders are held temporarily in court and police cells until prison beds are available. Corrective Services NSW has short, medium and long-term strategies to meet the demands on the prison system as the number of inmates increases.’
A System in Crisis
Labor leader Luke Foley has criticised the NSW government about the current prison situation, saying that the justice system is in crisis.
And Corrections Minister David Ellis is facing renewed pressure since the man was released on bail – the incident just the latest in a series of embarrassing situations for Corrective Services, following several prison breakouts in recent months.
But Mr Ellis has backed the Department’s statement, saying that there is space for more inmates and denying that prisons have ‘closed their doors.’
He has promised that an additional 181 beds will be placed into prisons in coming weeks, saying that increased demand is a reflection of ‘stronger law enforcement and sentences which reflect community expectations.’ However, Mr Ellis has not explained where these beds will be installed and there are fears that placing them into existing space will simply add to the problems associated with overcrowding.
At the end of the day, it appears that concerns expressed in previous blogs about the impact of tougher bail laws and mandatory sentencing regimes are gradually being realised.