Police send prisons the bill for use of cells

Prison overcrowding in South Australia has become so frequent that Police Commissioner Gary Burns has asked for reimbursement of costs borne by SA Police when police cells were used by Corrections to manage prison overcrowding.

Mr Burns told Parliament's Budget and Finance Committee this week that he has written to David Brown, the head of SA's Corrections Department, asking for reimbursement.

Commissioner Burns also reconfirmed in his evidence this week comments that he first made in November that the use of police cells was having an impact on police operations.

"Unprecedented levels of prison overcrowding have seen an unacceptable level of disruption to police operations in recent times, and now we have confirmation that police are bearing a financial cost too," said Shadow Police Minister John Gardner.

"What has come out this week is that the Police are now demanding some acknowledgement of the financial costs that are being imposed on them when our prisons overflow into police cells.

"The fact that not only the City Watch-house, but also police cells at Sturt and Holden Hill, are now used on a daily basis to handle the overcrowding crisis is a matter that the Government should have been prepared for.

"The prison capacity crisis has been building for years. Daily use of these police cells is not what they were designed for, and it's not acceptable that it continue. The Government's recent announcement of some extra beds being built over the next few years is too little too late and betrays all the elements of a system in crisis."

Documents received by the State Liberals under Freedom of Information in relation to use of police cells by Corrections shows the escalation of the problem:

  • In 2010-11 the Watch House was used for 5 days;
  • In 2011-12 the Watch House was used for 95 days;
  • In 2012-13 the Watch House was used for 170 days; and,
  • In 2013-14 the Watch House was used for 338 days and Sturt and Holden Hill police cells were also used for 35 days.

"The fact that the Government failed to prepare for the escalating number of prisoners is now impacting police operations, as cells are too often unavailable for police to use when charging offenders because they're being used to hold prisoners instead," said Mr Gardner.

"We've seen ramping in our hospitals for years. Now it seems that the Weatherill Labor Government is expecting police and corrections to do the same ā€“ when an offender or a prisoner is in the back of a van they're not taking up cell space that the Government doesn't have!"