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Source — The Sydney Morning Herald

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Australia: record NSW prison population, rising assault rate, show a system "in a crisis"

The number of assaults in overcrowded NSW prisons has soared by 37 per cent in the past two years, as the prison population reaches a record high.

According to figures released on Monday by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, prisoner numbers reached 12,729 in December - including 4388 on remand, in custody pending trial - in a system designed for 11,000 inmates.

Police recorded 1101 assaults on prison premises in the 12 months to September 2016, a two-year increase of 37 per cent, while the assault rate per 1,000 prisoners increased by 25 per cent, the Bureau’s figures show. The records do not specify whether the assaults involve inmates, staff or others.

“It’s been well established in research overseas that when you get more prisoners than there is space available to fit them, you get an increase in violence, especially among younger prisoners,” Bureau director Don Weatherburn said.

While he said it was encouraging that the latest figures showed slowing growth in adult prisoner numbers, the prison population had surged 16 per cent in the past two years.

It was not because of rising crime rates, Dr Weatherburn said. Rather, police were making more arrests for crimes liable to result in jail terms, more people were in custody under tougher bail laws and courts were handing out longer sentences. People were also spending longer on remand because of congestion in the District Court, which an Auditor-General’s report found cost almost $81 million last financial year.

The same report noted that prisoners in NSW have the lowest out-of-cell hours in the country - an average of 7.8 per day day - with inmate access to some services and resources deteriorating.

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