ALL hell could break loose in one of the most notorious maximum security prisons in Australia this afternoon if prison guards follow through on threats to strike, according to a former inmate.
Prison Officers Vocational Branch (POVB) Vice Chair Jason Charlton told news.com.au that a strike action at Long Bay jail looked set to go ahead this afternoon in response to Corrective Services New South Wales (CSNSW) job cuts of frontline Prison Officers.
Mr Charlton said tensions “are very high” and the action looks set to go ahead following a midday meeting.
“This time the Executive Officers may join us on strike as [CSNSW is] deleting the entire Assistant Superintendent rank as part of the Benchmarking reforms,” he said.
“In the past they have run the gaols when Prison Officers have gone on strike, this is the first time in my memory that executive staff have said they will support us and walk out also.”
In the event that all staff walk out on the jobs, NSW Police officers will be brought in to “look after the jail”, and all prisoners will be locked into their shared cells until the guards return to work.
But according to John Killick, a career criminal who gained infamy after his girlfriend Lucy Dudko hijacked a helicopter and freed him from Sydney’s Silverwater prison, that could be a recipe for disaster.
Killick told news.com.au that “lockdown” was often the catalyst for all hell to break loose among inmates. The convicted robber, who was recaptured after 45 days on the run following his dramatic prison escape in 1999, has been living as a free man for three years. He’s now 75 years old but has spent much of his life behind bars with notorious criminals including Ivan Milat and Malcolm Baker.
“When all the guards and executives walk out, the prisoners are locked in their cells, and the police are usually called in to hold the fort,” Killick told news.com.au.
“But if the strike goes on for too long, and a lot did when I was in prison, the inmates become agitated because they can’t get out of their cells to make calls or use the showers, so they start to play up.
“They just destroy it … in [one incident] when all the guys were locked in they started fires and were throwing things out the windows … they share cells so when they’re all locked in and get on each others’ nerves, things can get very ugly.”
A Corrective Services NSW spokesman told news.com.au that it “has procedures in place to ensure security is not compromised in the case of industrial action”.
He said CSNSW was “in the middle of consultations with staff and unions at Long Bay, and no decisions on job changes have been made”.
“Industrial action is inappropriate,” he said.
“The parties have to date participated in cooperative discussions, at the local and central levels and have also used the Industrial Relations Commission to assist.
“CSNSW will refer any industrial action to the Industrial Relations Commission.”
According to the spokesman, benchmarking will lead to a reduction in staff at the Metropolitan Special Programs Centre (MSPC) and Long Bay Hospital, “but it is too early to say how many positions will be affected”.
Mr Charlton said the “biggest job cuts” were being left until last as part of the Benchmarking reforms which affect “some of NSW’s toughest gaols, Long Bay, Goulburn and the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater (MRRC)”.
“The job cuts in those gaols are the largest by far in comparison to the other 80 per cent of gaols that have already been benchmarked. In our view (POVB) the job cuts will greatly compromise staff safety and security in those gaols,” Mr Charlton said.
According to Mr Charlton, CSNSW will next week announce that staff numbers will be slashed from 237 to 147 across the state under Benchmarking reforms.
“A total loss of 90 jobs,” he said.
“Out of those numbers are 10 executive Officers and 77 front line Prison officers.”
“Commissioner Peter Severin is showing total disregard for Prison Officer safety by presenting these job cuts … to [some] of the most volatile prisons [in the state].
“We want to do our jobs safely and keep the community safe by housing all category of inmates from Minimum to Extreme High Risk (Including Inmates that threaten the Nations security) in a secure and humane manner.”
The CSNSW spokesman said CSNSW will make every effort to find alternative jobs at the complex or at nearby centres for any staff whose positions have been affected when the new benchmarked models introduced at Long Bay.
Commissioner Peter Severin told news.com.au that CSNSW was “growing strongly and we expect to generate 2,000 new jobs in the next three years“.
“We need our experienced staff, and our goal is to lose as few as possible,’ Mr Severin said.
POVB representatives will meet with Corrections staff at Long Bay jail at midday to determine their next move. Assistant commissioner Kevin Corcoran will reportedly address staff and call for calm and further negotiations.
“The PSA is calling for staff not to take industrial action and to negotiate further, however tensions are very high among Prison Officers and the Members as a collective want to take action now,” Mr Charlton said.