Robyne Cuerel

New Grafton jail stays at 600 beds despite prisoner surge

THERE are no plans to expand Grafton's new jail beyond its promised 600-bed capacity despite the NSW prison population reaching an all-time peak.

New Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures reveal the state's adult inmate population grew by 14% over the year to September, reaching a record of 11,801.

Indigenous inmate numbers grew at an even quicker pace - up 18%, compared to 12% for non-indigenous prisoners.

Jail overcrowding has prompted the NSW Government to plan a new jail for Grafton and reopen an extra 90 beds at the town's existing remand centre.

But the statewide convict blow-out is already having tangible effects.

Every prisoner arrested in Sydney on Friday night was kept in a police holding cell and denied access to a bail hearing the next day because of overcrowding.

They could not be transferred out of police custody in case bail was denied and they were sent to a jail without the room to keep them.

The backlog led to Parramatta Local Court closing for the day while police and corrections officers scrambled to find a solution.

Some prisoners were reportedly kept in holding cells for up to 10 days last week because of the bed shortage.

Corrections Minister David Elliott said there were no current plans for the new Grafton prison to expand beyond its planned 600-bed capacity.

"The 2015-16 Budget allocated funding to procure a new 600-bed prison in Grafton, delivering ongoing jobs and investment for the region," he said.

"It also allocated $20 million to complete an 1100-bed expansion program across various prisons across NSW."

BOCSAR director Dr Don Weatherburn said juvenile prisoner levels increased by 9% over the year to October.

However, the number of juveniles in custody fell 7% over the past two years.

Dr Weatherburn said prison workers should brace themselves for even more overcrowding.

"Normally, the number of remand prisoners tapers off from April to August but there has been no sign of that this year," he said.

"The surge in remand numbers has also been followed by a surge in the number of sentenced prisoners.

"Given the usual surge in the number of prisoners on remand over the Christmas-New Year period, we can expect further rapid increases in the number of people in prison."