Proposal to expand Cessnock Gaol… good or bad?

Samaritans CEO

The recent proposal by Corrective Services NSW to expand Cessnock Gaol with 1000 additional beds raises two concerns for me.

Firstly, following Cessnock Gaol’s last expansion in 2012, when 250 new single-bed cells were built, Samaritans Information and Neighbourhood Centre at Cessnock experienced a significant spike in intake for people we support. Trends revealed an increase in families moving to the area to be closer to family members in gaol with no money, food or means to support themselves. Many of the people who approached our Samaritans Information and Neighbourhood Centre for help, which offers support, emergency assistance and referral, also had the extra burden of young children to support.

Along with the added strain on the services we provide, Samaritans also found that homelessness in the area has increased over the last four years with families struggling to afford rent or find appropriate accommodation after relocating to be near loved ones in gaol. With the addition of 1000 beds to Cessnock Gaol it is anticipated homelessness will continue to rise, as will the strain on our support services in the area.

My second concern is the allocation of funding and whether a focus on reducing recidivism would be more worthwhile than the NSW government’s $3.8 billion Prison Bed Capacity Program, which would create 7000 more beds over four years. Investing money in post-release programs which aim to reduce recidivism by supporting people exiting prison with accommodation, job opportunities and assimilation back into the community is more productive for the individual and cost-effective for tax payers. The recidivism rate for men who participate in Samaritans Friendship House program is below 14%, compared to a significantly higher rate of 60% in the general post- release population. The program has supported over 480 men in the last 20 years yet receives no Government funding whatsoever. Rather than investing in more beds I would like to see more funding towards programs such as these which have proven to reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation.

Samaritans is a charity that assists thousands of people in need throughout Newcastle & the Hunter. Find out how Samaritans can help you here