Members of the public and unionists show their support for a call to reopen Grafton Jail.
Members of the public and unionists show their support for a call to reopen Grafton Jail. Adam Hourigan

Re-open jail or we escalate our campaign says union

THE union calling for the return of Grafton jail to full operation has promised to escalate its campaign unless its demands are met.

The general secretary of the Public Service Association Anne Gardiner was in Grafton today for a rally at the jail.

Ms Gardiner said she was leaving the rally to meet with Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis and Mayor Richie Williamson and business representative.

"If we don't get a satisfactory response then as a group we will work out what the next steps are, but we will be escalating this campaign, because the reopening of Grafton jail should be a priority for the Baird government which faces drastic prison overcrowding," Ms Gardiner said.

About 40 people assembled at the jail to hear Ms Gardiner, former jail employee Steve Jeffs, Chamber of Commerce representative Mark Butler and the chairman of the Prison Officers Vocation Branch of the PSA, Steve McMahon reveal the work they had been doing behind the scene to put pressure on the government to get the jail full operational.

Former Grafton jail governor John Heffernan said he was quietly confident the government was close to reopening the jail.

He said some new faces in the government gave it the opportunity to move on from the bad days of mid-2012.

"Now's the time to right a wrong that was done some time ago," he said.

Union member Janette Lever came to the rally to lend her support.

She said upgrading the jail would be a massive boost for the local economy which had gone downhill since the jail downgrade in 2012.

"It impacts everyone, everyday life: the size of classes, hospitals. Every single facility in Grafton has been impacted by the closure of Grafton jail.

"To reopen it would be fantastic, a massive injection and a positive thing for Grafton itself. It would be brilliant."

Mr McMahon said the prison system is full and prison officers across the state are struggling with the increase in inmate numbers.

He said when Grafton jail was downgraded, the prison population was around 9400 and it had risen to 11,500 this year.

"Grafton will provide a service in the northern district of the state which will allow prisoners to remain within their area and take the pressure off prison officers suffering from the high numbers of inmates in jails across NSW," he said.

Grafton solicitor Greg Coombes said it was important for justice the jail become fully operational again.

He said there were people in custody who could not get face to face interviews with their solicitors.

"Some of these people convicted, some of these people are not convicted, therefore to have access to these people before the trials, so we can discuss things and get last-minute instructions. It can save the public a lot of money," he said.

Grafton Chamber of Commerce spokesman Mark Butler said the jail pumped about $8 million annually into the local community, so it was vital it re-open for the sake of the local economy.



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