Bashings, escapes as overcrowded jails tear at seams

THE state's overcrowded prison system is reaching boiling point with an armed inmate attacking guards, two prisoners fleeing jail and authorities turning back criminals because of a lack of beds.

Prison officers were forced to use tear gas on Sunday to subdue an inmate in Silverwater Jail's remand wing who was threatening guards with sharp strips torn off metal window fittings.

The incident happened just two days after two male inmates escaped from Kirkconnell Correctional Centre near Bathurst after assaulting a female guard.

The men were captured in nearby bushland and returned to prison soon after their escape.

Kirkconnell was controversially closed in 2011, back when New South Wales housed 2000 fewer prisoners.

Inmate Kyle Ashley Dale Baker escaped the minimum security facility just one day after it was reopened in July last year, before handing himself in to police a few days later.

Officers at Goulburn jail used tear gas and a live round to break up a brawl last week, which the Public Service Association claimed was sparked by an Islamic prisoner's attempts to convert other inmates to his religion.

Now there are reports of prison staff being forced to turn back new inmates over the weekend because of overcrowding in NSW jails.

The Daily Telegraph reported it was a similar situation to March's overcrowding, when authorities had to keep prisoners in police cells because jails were over capacity.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's latest quarterly update found the NSW adult prison population grew by 9% between April 2015 and March 2016, reaching a new record of 12,390 inmates.

Bureau director Dr Don Weatherburn attributed the growth to increases in the number of prisoners on remand - those inmates awaiting trial or sentence.

"The percentage of defendants refused bail at their first court appearance has risen sharply since June 2014, not long after reforms to the NSW Bail Act were introduced," Dr Weatherburn said.

The Baird Government last month committed $3.8 billion to add about 7000 beds to the system over the next five years, including the construction of a 1700-bed facility in Grafton.


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