REMAND prisoners across the state are languishing in jail cells for months, even years, awaiting their trial; a situation one barrister has described “as scandalous.”
Barrister Bill Walsh, a guest speaker at Charles Sturt University’s Nagle event, From Nagle to Now 40 Years of Prison Reform and Rehabilitation held recently, spoke of his the outrage of remand prisoners being left in limbo waiting to make their way through a swamped criminal justice system.
Four decades ago Justice Nagle conducted a Royal Commission to oversee reforms to the Australian penal system following the Bathurst Jail riots, and 40 years on academics from Charles Sturt University’s Centre for Law and Justice reviewed his legacy.
Mr Walsh, a serving police officer at the time of the riot and one of the first on the scene, was among the guest panel at the lecture which included Luke Grant, Assistant Commissioner NSW Corrective Services, Debbie Kilroy OAM, former prisoner and now lawyer, John Paget, former NSW Inspector of Custodial Services and Uncle Vic Simms, a Bidjigal man and Deadly Award winner.
Speaking at the event, Mr Walsh said some remand prisoners are waiting as long as 12 to 18 months to get to trial.
Statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime (BOCSAR) show even longer waiting times, which are increasing year on year.
In 2017 remand prisoners before the Supreme Court spent an average of 904 days on remand, in the District Court the average was 695 days and in the Local Court 263 days.
In 2016 those waiting times were 838 days, 654 days and 228 days for each respective jurisdiction.
BOCSAR stats also revealed the state’s prison population had skyrocketed to 13,494, in a system designed to hold 11, 000 inmates.
Mr Walsh said as ‘prisoners on remand’ (in custody awaiting trial) the inmates are not classified, and therefore not entitled to rehabilitation.
“By the time they get to the Supreme or District Court it’s 12 to 18 months. Many are even waiting up to two years. They languish in prisons waiting for their matter to be dealt with, in total limbo.”
He said if a jury finds them not guilty, they are free to go, but there is no compensation, no ‘thanks for your trouble.’
He said it was scandalous in the 21st century, that a civilised society allows this, and was one of the greatest problems facing the criminal justice system.
“These people are locked up, sometimes with no legal advice or legal assistance, it is absolutely scandalous. The community should be outraged, you would be if it was your son or daughter,” he said.
NSW Corrections confirmed as of mid-August, just over 3,900 inmates in NSW prisons were on remand.
A spokesperson for Corrective Services said of the 3,900 inmates on remand around 250 of those are housed at Bathurst Correctional Centre and 71 are housed at Lithgow Correctional Centre, adding Bathurst Jail serves as a reception prison for Western NSW.