Judge lashes out at prison department over bursting jails

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NSW District Court Judge Paul Conlon has expressed his anger at the state’s prisons department after he was forced to release a man due to prison overcrowding on Monday.

The man, who was on serious drug charges, could not receive a mental health assessment at the Surry Hills police holding cells and had to be released, The Daily Telegraph reported.

But when prison reps issued a media release denying that the jails were at capacity, Conlon furiously challenged them to come to court and prove him wrong.
“Fortunately, as a judge, I’m not in the business of spin, so that means that I can tell it as it is,” Conlon told the District Court yesterday.

“If somebody from Corrective Services wants to come into court and tell me that it was possible for [the prisoner] to receive a mental health assessment in the holding cells of Surry Hills, they’re welcome in this court and I will apologise to them profusely.

“But that won’t happen ­because I understand the correctional service system.”

Corrections Minister David Elliott has since announced 181 new beds, following reports that bail was revoked for the man on drug charges, The Daily Telegraph estimates that the extra beds will only increase capacity by around 1.5 per cent.

The Department of Corrective Services issued a statement rejecting the Telegraph’s claims, saying the prison system has 20 spare beds at Surry Hill holding cells.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley accused the Baird government of putting community safety at risk by forcing judges to release accused criminals on bail.