AN OMBUDSMAN’S report has slammed the state government for not addressing issues of overcrowding in police holding cells.
Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer said the rising number of prisoners in holding cells had stretched police resources and, in some cases, breached prisoners’ human rights. The concerns were detailed in the annual Ombudsman’s report released on Wednesday.
It noted the number of prisoners held in police stations across Victoria had grown over the past 12 months and swelled to three times the agreed capacity levels. The Police Association has an industrial agreement to hold a maximum of 100 prisoners overnight across the state.
But reports received by the Ombudsman’s office indicated the number was regularly over 200 and recently, over 300 prisoners.
Issues of overcrowding were highlighted last month when two men were arrested for allegedly breaking out of custody at Bendigo Police station.
Corrections minister Edward O’Donohue said yesterday he was confident enough steps were being taken to address overcrowding. Mr Brouwer said the issues had been building for a number of years and needed to be urgently addressed.
“Despite warnings from my office for over a decade, it is clear that the state still lacks the facilities and systems to detain all its prisoners in acceptable conditions,” he said.
“Unless action is taken and the necessary investment is made, this issue is likely to worsen and presents an unacceptable risk for those detained and for the state as custodian.”
Mr Brouwer’s report also presented a damning picture of the conditions of holding cells. He said they were unsuitable for holding prisoners for any length of time.
“There is a limited ability for prisoners to be separated should there be security or health needs. As a result there have been infestations of scabies and lice in some police cells.”
The report noted that police officers had expressed concern that the conditions represented a breach of the human rights of prisoners.