Beechworth prisoners could be shifted to shipping containers

Acting Premier Peter Ryan and Corrections Minister Ed O’Donohue inspect a shipping container cell yesterday. Picture: FAIRFAX
Acting Premier Peter Ryan and Corrections Minister Ed O’Donohue inspect a shipping container cell yesterday. Picture: FAIRFAX

PRISONERS have started moving into prison cells built from shipping containers — and such cells could be on their way to Beechworth.

Fifty-eight prisoners have moved into the containers, which were brought from the Pilbara and installed at the minimum security Dhurringile Prison near Murchison in December.

About 20 more men are expected at the jail.

Corrections Minister Ed O’Donohue said that only the lowest security prisoners would be housed in the containers.

“We are also looking at whether similar accommodation can be used at other prisons, including Langi Kal Kal and Beechworth, and other walled prisons, where appropriate,” he said.

Mr O’Donohue said the government had bought the 50 containers for $5 million.

He said similar containers had been used to house medium-security prisoners in Western Australia.

Asked if this was a long-term solution to prison overcrowding that has resulted in hundreds of prisoners being held in police cells for long periods, Mr O’Donohue said: “That ultimately will depend on the future growth of the prison population and the delivery of those 2500 additional beds.”

The shipping containers are six metres long by 2.45 metres wide and 2.55 metres high, with a bunk bed in each for two prisoners.

The cells are part of the government plan to expand the prison system to alleviate overcrowding as inmate numbers increase.

By mid-last year, Victoria’s prison population was 5340 after rising 15 per cent, the greatest rise in the state’s history.

The government has opened 791 beds since 2011 and plans to add 2500 more.

Mr O’Donohue said the units would ease the number of prisoners in police cells.

The Magistrates Courts’ new practice of sitting on weekends and a greater use of video links with prisons in court had helped reduce the number of prisoners in police cells from 372 in November to about 175 now.

The Police Association, legal groups and magistrates have criticised the struggling prison system in recent months, with cell shortages preventing more than 300 people in custody being transported to court.

Acting Premier Peter Ryan yesterday acknowledged that the Coalition’s policies, which include abolishing suspended sentences, had contributed to the growth in the prisoner population, but made “no apologies” because the government wanted to make Victorians safe.

On Sunday, hours before the shipping containers were to be unveiled, an inmate escaped from Dhurringile.Geelong man Matthew James Boland, 36, was serving time for damaging property.