Frequently Asked Questions
This page contains information in response to frequently asked questions regarding the new Northern Prison.
How big will the prison be?
The new Northern Prison will accommodate up to 270 prisoners and be specifically designed to provide for a variety of security classifications, remand facilities, and a women’s prison.
The approximate prison footprint is around 13 hectares.
When will the prison be opened?
Stage one construction will be completed within five years of commencement, with the allocation of $150 million to house 140 prisoners.
Why has this site been chosen?
This site, located on Birralee Road in Valley Central, just outside of Westbury, has been selected as it best meets the criteria from our selection process, which included connectivity to major population centres in the north and north-west and location to services and transport routes.
Why not use the Ashley Youth Detention Centre site as the location for the prison?
In regards to utilising the current Ashley Youth Detention Centre site for the prison, the Government made a commitment at the last election to keep the Ashley Youth Detention Centre open at its current site, protecting jobs in the local community. A major redesign of the Ashley facility will take place to ensure it remains up to standard. It is not a suitable facility for an adult prison. Further, the Government has expressed that it is entirely inappropriate to co-locate a youth justice facility next to an adult prison.
Who will build the prison?
The Tasmanian Government is investing $270M into this project. The project is estimated to create hundreds of jobs during the construction phase. Importantly for the local economy, the Department of Justice will use local contractors and suppliers wherever possible.
How secure will the new prison be?
Community safety is our number one priority. We are designing a modern prison complex that will provide secure accommodation and facilities appropriate for the prison population it houses. It will have multiple security features to ensure the safety of staff, visitors and the wider community.
The circumstances of the recent unfortunate escape are still being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage. However, the escape did occur from a minimum security prison which was built in 1960. The reason this Government has committed more than $340 million to replace the State’s ageing prison facilities is to keep the Tasmanian community safe.
The new Northern Prison will be built to new contemporary security standards. The Northern Prison will be a maximum security facility and have security features consistent with that security classification. Escapes from custody are rare but escapes from maximum security prisons are extremely rare - no prisoners have escaped from the maximum security Risdon Prison Complex into the community since it became operational more than 13 years ago.
Prison design and security systems are continually evolving and the Northern Prison’s security features will be even more advanced than those at the Risdon Prison Complex. The Northern Prison project team will be examining the latest security features and technologies to ensure the facility is as safe and secure as it can possibly be.
What sort of protection will be around the prison?
It will include a continuous concrete wall topped by anti-climb design features and will be six metres high in total. This will provide a physical and visual screen between the prison and the surrounding area.
What happens if there is a riot or lockdown inside the prison?
Prison staff manage any disturbances internally and the community will not be affected by what occurs behind the prison’s walls. Police do not enter the prison in times of riots and disturbances.
What happens in the event of an escape?
Prisoner escapes are handled by Tasmania Police. Police secure areas by following their own procedures, as they do for any emergency that requires public attention such as having dangerous criminals at large after an escape from custody, armed robbery or domestic violence incident.
Will there be prisoners on day release in Westbury as part of their rehabilitation?
It is important to understand day release is used to assist in transitioning prisoners back into society towards the end of their sentence. This strictly controlled process sees prisoners participating in day release close to their home. This means prisoners transitioning back into society from Burnie will conduct their day release in Burnie and surrounds. A prisoner from Westbury for instance would undertake their day release in the Meander Valley area, even if they were located in the minimum-security prison at Risdon. Day release is not afforded to maximum-security prisoners.
It is important to recognise that day release is not the same as parole, which is managed by the Parole Board.
When the prison is completed will prisoners at Risdon who come from the North and North-West be automatically transferred?
Normal Prison administrational and operational process will determine which prisoners are sent to the Northern Prison with priority given to those required to appear before Northern courts.
Will all prisoners from the North and North-West of the state be able to be housed in the Northern Prison?
The Department will endeavour to accommodate North and North-West prisoners in the first instance. However, when completed, the prison has a capacity of 270 prisoners with a proportion of the beds allocated to remandees and female prisoners. Operational needs may see some North and North-West prisoner still transferred to Risdon Prison.
Are plans in place to improve the quality of transportation of prisoners from North and North-West courts to the new prison?
The Department is reviewing current transfers and transport practices across the State with a balanced focus on service delivery models that have safety, security and duty of care front and foremost.
Will meals for prisoners be prepared on site?
All prisoners will receive meals that are nutritionally balanced, well-planned, prepared and served in the manner that meets established food handling health standards. Although the prison has a kitchen the level of preparation on site has not yet been determined.
Will the prison be designed to cope with winter and summer temperature extremes?
Yes. The prison will be built to current building codes and standards, which require temperatures in accommodation and other areas of the prison to be regulated for heating and cooling to meet seasonal changes.
Will Westbury be known as a prison town?
In regards to the naming of the proposed prison, it is not the intention of the Government to call it the ‘Westbury Prison’. It is The Northern Regional Prison.
Studies show that following the establishment of a prison facility, there has not been an impact on the image of the region and surrounding areas. In fact, it is more likely to have a positive effect through increased social and economic opportunities. While the issue of stigma is an issue first raised in communities where correctional centres are proposed, findings from previous studies indicate that such perceptions did not represent the wider community view and that there is little evidence to support these perceptions.
Studies after the establishment of the Junee and Lithgow correctional centres in NSW both found that the presence of the centres had not attached a stigma to the town. In the case of the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, contrary to expectations of the community, research indicated that the centre may have led to a more positive image of the town amongst its residents, as a result of the direct and indirect employment opportunities and economic development within the town.
In addition, media reports from places such as Maldon, Castlemaine and Ararat in country Victoria show once prisons are in operation, concerns among many in the community around stigmatisation of the town are alleviated as economic and social benefits are realised.
Does having a prison increase crime rates?
Past experience in New South Wales has shown concerns about the effects on crime rates were not realised. A socio-economic study will be conducted as part of the planning application that will have data specific to the likely impacts, taking into account the town of Westbury and Meander Valley region.
Based on experience with similar correctional centre developments in other states, there is unlikely to be a significant number of people moving to the local areas to be closer to an inmate, let alone an increase in crime rates. Families of inmates typically need assistance from established social networks and by enlarge prefer to remain in a familiar environment.
Does a prison reduce property values?
Past experience in New South Wales has shown concerns about the effects on property values were not realised and property prices in the surrounding areas experienced an increase in value. Prices reflect a range of factors, including the quality of housing stock, access to jobs and services, and broader market conditions. The increase of employees, service providers and others coming to work, provide services or visit in the region may have a positive impact on property prices if they decide to live near their workplace.
A socio-economic study will be conducted as part of the planning application that will have data specific to the likely impacts, taking into account the town of Westbury and Meander Valley region.
Will the prison be detrimental to the local tourism industry?
We recognise that there are concerns about impacts on tourism in the region. Although, interstate studies don’t show a detrimental effect on tourism for towns located in proximity to a prison, a socio-economic study will be conducted as part of the planning application that will have data specific to the likely impacts, taking into account the town of Westbury and Meander Valley region.
We recognise some people in the town have concerns round Google searches for Westbury only showing prison related articles, which you feel could damage tourism. This is very unlikely. Google will show up the most relevant results based on in particular, news articles being written about a topic and what users are searching and clicking on.
Similar searches for ‘Castlemaine' in Victoria and ‘Cooma’ and ‘Taree' in NSW do not show any prison related articles in the first 10 pages of each Google search, although they do have correctional facilities nearby.
How does having prisoners close to their support networks prevent crime?
Building a new prison in the north of Tasmania will improve access to family and support for inmates. Access to these networks while in prison is valuable and is known to reduce the number of people who reoffend and return to prison.
Will Tasmania Prison Service assist with transport for families visiting prisoners at the new prison?
Keeping in contact with people in the community can help to support the prisoner while in prison and their family and is also important in helping ex-prisoners to readjust to life in the community when they are released. Currently the Launceston City Mission (assisted by the TPS) runs a free bus service for prison visitors. The Department will consult with providers to determine if this will be extended to the Northern Prison.
Is there plans to increase social housing to cater for the prison?
The Government has no plans to increase social housing in Westbury in relation to the prison. There are no programs in place or planned, where families of prisoners are encouraged or paid to move closer to any adult prison facility in Tasmania.
Will there be an influx of people to Westbury because of this prison?
As it is a significant building project, we expect businesses in Westbury to benefit during the construction of the prison. The prison will have up to 250 staff when it is operating. We expect that people in the Meander Valley region will benefit from employment in its operation. While it is hard to predict the number, it is expected that some people employed at the prison will move to the region.
There aren’t many public transport options to the region, will that change?
Part of our consultation around the project will include working with relevant stakeholders on how public transport could be improved to and from the area to allow easier access to the prison for workers and visitors.
Will the prison look exactly like the drawings provided?
The drawings provide an idea of where it may sit on the block and what it could look like based on best practice designs of other similar prisons in Australia. They are artistic impressions only and are subject to change.
How will people be selected to work in the prison?
The Department of Justice will develop a recruitment strategy that will include opportunities for local and state-wide applicants to apply for uniform and non-uniformed positions within the prison.
Will the prison have a detrimental effect on our emergency services?
Part of the consultation process is to liaise with all effected stakeholders. This includes all emergency services. At this early stage of planning, the effect of the Northern Regional Prison on resourcing and response times of Ambulance Tasmania, Tasmania Police and the Tasmanian Fire Service is unknown. It is something the Department would work positively on with all emergency services to ensure there is no reduction in service to the area.
Will the prison have bright lights shining at night?
For security and safety purposes, the secure perimeter of the prison is required to be illuminated from dusk until after dawn to allow for visual detection of movement and to facilitate the 24-hour operation of the prison. It will be similar to the lighting at the Tas Alkaloids factory located nearby.
During the design of the prison, the Department will explore every option to reduce any visual impacts of the lighting.
Will the prison increase the noise levels of the industrial area?
The development will be required to operate with planning regulations, which will stipulate acceptable noise levels for that activity. The exact details of the noise created by this development are currently not known to the Project team, but that work is underway. The details of noise will be laid out in the planning application and made known to the community prior to submission. The operation of a prison is not expected to create as much noise as the nearby industrial area.
What is the planning process for this development?
The first step is a subdivision and amendment of the zoning of the proposed site. Under the new planning scheme, the zone is called a Particular Purpose Zone (PPZ), and this development will be seeking to be amended to a PPZ especially for correctional facilities. These types of applications are broad in nature, and do not necessarily go into great depth of detail.
The public will have an opportunity to make a representation to the proposal at this stage of the process.
This is expected to go to the Meander Valley Council in the first half of 2020. The timeframe has extended due to the Department taking on board feedback from the community that has extended the scope of the socio-economic study. It will then go to The Tasmanian Planning Commission for approval, which can take up to six months.
If the rezone of the PPZ is approved, a Development Application (DA) will be prepared and submitted to Council around November 2020. This DA will be a far more detailed application regarding the design of the Northern Regional Prison.
The public has another opportunity to make a representation to the proposal at this stage of the process.
This process can take up to 9 months and has the potential to go to The Tasmanian Planning Commission for approval.
I want to have my say about the project. How do I do that?
For a prison to be built on this site we will need to follow standard planning processes, including a full and thorough public consultation. We have been, and will continue to hold, public information sessions and setting up an online portal.
Northern Regional Prison - addressing your concerns
Further reading can be found below.