Corrections minister confident holding cell pressure will improve

VICTORIAN Corrections Minister Edward O'Donohue says police holding cells are under mounting pressure but he is confident the number of prisoners in temporary placements will decrease.

Mr O'Donohue said the government was taking steps to ease over-crowding at Bendigo Police Station and other stations, where prisoners were ferried from one cell to the next.

He credited new trials including weekend court sittings at Melbourne Magistrates Court with helping address the issue.

"It's trending the right way," he said.

“We’re very pleased with the way these initiatives have helped reduce some of the pressure.”

Mr O’Donohue said the government’s parole reforms have clearly contributed to an increase in Victoria’s prison population.

In Bendigo last week to meet with the Loddon Regional Reference group he said long-term measures such as the expansion to Loddon prison would help alleviate increased demand on prisons and police.

The new restricted minimum facility at Castlemaine will have 236 beds and is due to open in the second half of next year.

“It’s building the beds that are required to support the community safety crackdown," he said.

"It has a ripple effect across the system.”

The state government has been urged to tackle issues facing the corrections system.

A report from Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer noted the rising number of prisoners in holding cells had stretched police resources and, in some cases, breached prisoners’ human rights.

The report released by Mr Brouwer in August said the number of prisoners in police cells was regularly above maximum capacity. 

He said unless pressure on holding cells improved it would continue to be “an unacceptable risk for those detained”.

Opposition spokesman for Corrections Martin Pakula said it was unclear whether the number of prisoners in holding cells was reducing.

"Because the government refuses to be transparent about the number of prisoners held in police cells, they're effectively asking Victorians to take their word for it when they say the numbers are coming down," he said.

"There is no way of independently verifying the claim."

Mr Pakula warned the Corrections system was buckling under the pressure of the state government's tough-on-crime policies.

"If you decide to have more arrests, more trials, less Legal Aid support, fewer guilty pleas, and to lock more people up for longer, you'd better make the commensurate resource investment or the system simply collapses, which is what it's well on its way to doing."

The Victoria Police Association said Bendigo Police Station was among many stations forced to regularly hold prisoners past the 14-day limit. 

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