NSW jails about to hit breaking point, reopen Grafton: union

INMATE numbers in NSW jails are about to hit the wall, claims the union representing prison officers.

The chairman of the Prison Officers Vocational Branch of the Public Service Association (POVB), Steve McMahon, said inmate numbers cracked 11,500 this week and were increasing at an average of about 50 a week.

"We believe the absolute maximum in NSW is 11,600," he said. "I know they (the State Government) have targeted 11,800, but I know Kirkconnell is not fully online yet, so that number is not going to be right."

"The last official figures were 11,440, but I know internally that we've cracked 11,500.

"That's dangerously close to the absolute maximum."

The POVB has been urging the reinstatement of Grafton Jail in response to the rising prison population.

The union said Grafton is in the best position to be quickly able to take prisoners and were surprised when the Baird Government decided to reopen Kirkconnell prison, near Bathurst, earlier this year.

Mr McMahon said NSW prisons, including Grafton, would not cause the same problems with hanging points as emerged in a recent coronial inquest in Queensland.

The Queensland Coroner has warned the new ALP Government to be wary of reopening decommissioned jails after investigating the 2011 suicide of a prisoner at the Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich.

Coroner Terry Ryan said nearly half the 492 cells in the jail contained hanging points and urged the Palaszczuk Government to find alternatives to reopening it.

Mr McMahon said NSW jails should be largely free of this issue.

"A few years ago there was a project to eliminate hanging points in jail cells and Grafton would have been part of that," he said.

"The main problem is cell furniture like beds and tables. Anything can be turned into a hanging point and it's impossible to remove all of it.

"The way we get around it is strict weeding out of those people most at risk and providing appropriate supervision."

Mr McMahon said when jails became overcrowded it became harder to guarantee an adequate supervision.