Albury may be about to lose it’s 24 hour Corrective Services officers with a restructuring by the NSW Department of Corrective Services threatening to see the supervision of short term prisoners -a role currently undertaken by Corrective Services Officers- transferred to police.
I don’t think there are many people who would dispute that policing is a demanding role which requires specialist training, but so is that of managing persons in custody.
At the risk of stating the patently obvious, they are quite distinct roles and ones which place differing demands on the persons undertaking them.
The debate surrounding police numbers in Albury is nothing new, I think most people in the community are aware that police numbers for the region on both sides of the border are already below what is needed.
The debate around alcohol-fuelled violence on Dean Street has highlighted the shortage of police numbers on our streets, and the consequences in terms of anti-social behaviour, assaults and vandalism which have come about as a result of this.
Losing police to provide a supervisory role to persons in custody will not only see a reduction in policing outcomes due to already stretched police personnel being cut back, but also a deterioration of outcomes for people in custody.
Being incarcerated is a dangerous proposition for anyone at the best of times, without the skill, expertise and judgement of experienced and specially trained Corrections Officers, it becomes even more so.
I don’t think it’s any great secret that the number of deaths in custody which occurs where people in custody are supervised by police (remote communities for example) far exceeds the rate of overall deaths in custody for people supervised by Corrections Officers.
This isn’t so much a negative reflection on police as it is an endorsement of the skills of Corrections Officers.
There is another consideration, currently, the role of Corrections Officers is one of a third party. If a person commits a crime, they are arrested by police, interviewed by police and charged, also by police.
Almost invariably, this results in a high level of animosity on the part of the individual towards police in general. People who are often in a very unstable state of mind and often with a predisposition for violence.
The role of Corrections Officers in these instances is as an important one of intermediary.
In the initial stages of a person’s incarceration, Corrections Officers are more likely to be able to gain a person’s co-operation (and be less likely to be met with violent resistance) purely by virtue of the fact that they are not police.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that if police are taken off the streets to guard holding cells we will see increased violence in the community, poorer police response times, poorer resolution rates for crime in the community, higher rates of mortality and morbidity for persons in custody and an increased incidence of police being assaulted.
It’s a lose lose for everyone, but at least the Department of Corrections saves a couple of bucks.
Too bad about the costs incurred to the wider community, police and people in custody both financial and in terms of human misery.