Managing growth in the NSW prison population

The Department of Justice has relied heavily on temporary responses to accommodate growing prisoner numbers according to a report released today by the Acting Auditor-General for New South Wales, Ian Goodwin.

Sustained reliance on temporary responses, including doubling and tripling up the number of beds in cells, reopening closed facilities and using ageing facilities, is inefficient and creates risks to safety and timely access to prisoner support services. 

From 2012 to 2018, the prison population in New South Wales grew by nearly 40 per cent from 9,602 to 13,630 inmates. The department projects growth to continue over the short and longer-term. 

In response to sustained growth in prisoner numbers, the NSW Government announced the $3.8 billion Prison Bed Capacity Program in June 2016, which intends to deliver around 6,100 beds by May 2021. Under the program, the department delivered two rapid build dormitory style prisons within 18 months. 

To plan for longer-term needs, the department has prepared a 20-year infrastructure strategy. The strategy sets out challenges, priorities and planned actions to meet projected capacity needs, but it has yet to be funded. One of the key challenges identified is overcoming demand for prison beds within the greater Sydney area, where the department projects a shortfall in capacity from 2022. The department has prepared a business case to address this need, which is subject to government approval and funding. 

The report makes recommendations which aim to improve the quality of advice on prison population growth and capacity needs, and ensure that the prison system is able to respond to future prisoner population fluctuations while improving system efficiency and effectiveness. 

Further information

Barry Underwood, Director, Office of the Auditor-General, on 0403 073 664 and email