Over the weekend (6/7 Dec 2015) there was press about the Attorney General, Ms Upton, providing $20 million to fund acting District Court judges and other facilities to clear the largest backlog since 2007.
It now takes an average of 369 days, or so the press reports, to conclude a matter in the District Court.
On the surface the announcement sounds like good news but as ever, scratch the details and the news is not as good as it can be.
The District Court, as important as it is and there in no doubt about that, is only one part of the justice machine in NSW. The other components are the police, the Local and Supreme Courts and Corrections that has to house the convicted prisoners.
The police are well funded and productive. They are arresting and processing more offenders as a result.
The Local Court is under resourced by as many as eight magistrates. The Supreme Court appears to be functioning well.
That leaves the gaol system. NSW gaols were built to house approximately 9,100 people. They currently house in excess of 12,000 or approximately 33% more than originally designed for. While it’s not fashionable to care about prisoners, after all they committed the crime, it is important in a developed society to do so.
We send prisoners, as a society, to gaol for a range of reasons, punishment, condemnation, retribution but always, in some part, for rehabilitation. It is hard to see how a person can be rehabilitated when they are locked in cramped conditions in overcrowded cells with little ability to function in any human way.
If rehabilitation does not cause you to think again then consider the officers who have to work in the facilities. The conditions are so overcrowded that the gaols are becoming tinder boxes. It is inevitable, in my opinion, that there will be a riot due to the conditions that are prevailing. No doubt people will be injured and there is a very real fear that guards and or prisoners could be killed. Funding just the courts without the prisons will create a more dangerous workplace for the guards who work there.
The government must be more forward thinking in this area. The government of NSW is about to come into a lot of money through the electricity leasing plans, some of this money needs to be spent on correctional facilities. Gaols cannot be built over night but now we have funding and the opportunity to plan let’s hope the government does so for the sake of those who reside in the gaols and those who have to work in them.
A few dollars spent funding the magistracy wouldn’t go amiss either. It is my understanding that a number of country circuits will no longer operate as they did because there are no magistrates to go to them.
The justice system is a complete machine and boosting one component of it without funding the rest will lead to a disaster.