MOUNT Gambier Mayor Lynette Martin has vowed to seek the “truth” over the impact of the prison expansion on the city’s community.
This follows explosive revelations many prisoners – who are not originally from Mount Gambier – are not forced to return home.
Department for Correctional Services (DCS) has conceded its long-standing agreement that “all prisoners” are returned to their place of residence is not mandatory for prisoners released without conditions.
The department says it has no data on how many prisoners released from the correctional facility have made the Blue Lake city their home.
The department yesterday also could not reveal what the re-offending rate is for the Mount Gambier Prison, which now houses a staggering 650 prisoners.
Standing outside the Mount Gambier Prison yesterday, Ms Martin said it was an issue that was now firmly in her radar following The Border Watch’s special report on the issue.
“The article raises concerns, on a number of levels, around the management of prisoners post release from the Mount Gambier Prison,” Ms Martin said.
The mayor raised the issue with Correctional Services Minister Corey Wingard during his brief visit to Mount Gambier over the weekend.
“Mr Wingard has agreed to speak with me again on this matter and I expect this to take place once the minister has been appropriately briefed,” Ms Martin said.
The mayor revealed she had already written a letter to the minister to remind him of this commitment.
“I am also seeking a meeting with Grant District Mayor Richard Sage to be better informed,” she added.
“Although the prison is in the Grant District, the City of Mount Gambier provides the services that would be used by former prisoners, if this was the case.
“From my point of view, it is important we gather information from all stakeholders so that we can be informed of the true position.”
Ms Martin said she had already discussed the matter with council’s chief executive officer Andrew Meddle and “some concerned” council colleagues.
“At this stage, council does not have a formal position on the matter reported, although it will be discussed at a forthcoming committee or council meeting,” she said.
“Correctional services are a State Government activity and local government has no engagement in the planning and delivery of such services,” she said.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr Wingard said the department assisted “all former prisoners” to return to their initial place of residence.
“DCS’s exit process is focused on the identification of strategies and community-based resources to assist the prisoner in preventing re-offending,” Mr Wingard said.
“Such programs have won international awards and the state’s reoffending rate is one of the best in Australia and well below the national average.”
But according to sources, inmates may be given a bus ticket but they are not forced to return to Adelaide.
It is also understood the issue is placing pressure on the city’s police resources given former a number of former prisoners reoffend.
Meanwhile, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell – who last week called for an in-depth study into the issue – said he planned to speak with Minister Wingard this week in Adelaide.
“We need data as to what is actually occurring,” Mr Bell said yesterday.
He said this issue had been raised with him on many occasions by the community, which deserved answers.
Department for Correctional Services yesterday declined to make any further comment on the issue yesterday.
But in a statement published in The Border Watch on Friday, a spokesperson said the department assisted “all prisoners where possible” to return to their place of residence.
“The department’s agreement is that all prisoners who are released from Mount Gambier Prison are returned to their place of residence,” the spokesperson said.
“All sex offenders, no matter what prison they finish their sentence at, are released from the Adelaide metropolitan area. If they reside outside of this area, the department will assist them to return to their place of residence.”
The spokesperson said the department’s priority was always community safety.
“DCS’s exit process is focused on the identification of strategies and community based resources to assist the prisoner in preventing re-offending,” the spokesperson said.
According to department, South Australia has the lowest rate of return to prison nationally (37.1pc), below the national average of 45.6pc.