Plans for West Melbourne custody complex as prisoner numbers rise

Published in the Sunday Herald Sun on June 2, 2019

A tripling of prisoners on remand over the past 10 years is driving plans for a new custody complex in Melbourne’s CBD.

The complex — to be built in West Melbourne — will include short-stay cells for up to 200 prisoners on remand.

It’s also planned to house one-day holding cells for 90 prisoners and up to six magistrates’ courts in a move aimed at reducing time transporting prisoners and curbing the number locked up at suburban police stations.

Figures provided to the Sunday Herald Sun show last financial year there were 3500 remand prisoners released after fewer than three months in custody — up from 1260 a decade ago.

The abolition of suspended sentences and tougher bail laws had spurred the increase.

Corrections Minister Ben Carroll said: “The proposed custody centre would be a completely new model for Victoria, which would co-locate short stay prison cells and day-holding cells with courtrooms.”

Custody management woes have been plaguing Victoria.

The courts over five years from September 2013 awarded more than $1.2 million in costs against Corrections Victoria for failing to deliver prisoners to court. There were 1351 orders in all — 254 made last year.

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said the new custody complex would help free up frontline police.

“This provides a significant increase to a remand system that is presently stretched and frequently boils over into police station cells,’’ Mr Gatt said.

“At times when it does, there is a massive strain placed on police stations across the state.

“Moving to a system where remand and courts are co-located will reduce time wasted through transporting prisoners, particularly those required at court for administrative hearings.

“This should become the blueprint concept for future prisons, remand centres and court complexes into the future.”

The short-stay cells will hold remand prisoners for up to a fortnight.

Mr Carroll said prisoners would also be able to access financial, health, and bail and remand assistance “so we can stop the justice system from being a turnstile for offenders”.