WORRIED residents have claimed the building of a new jail in Tamworth would be tantamount to “social suicide”.
The assertion came on Tuesday night when nine speakers rose to bombard councillors with their fears over what a new prison would mean for the city.
Rises in crime rates, drug abuse, gang activity, insurance premiums, as well as falls in property prices, were all proffered as reasons why a new jail was unsuitable for Tamworth.
However, the council could not be convinced to scrap plans to approach the state government and gauge its interest in developing “a correctional centre as part of a renewable energy concept”.
Association of Tamworth Ratepayers spokesman Geoffrey Green claimed in his address there was “clear evidence” jails resulted in the “degradation of society”.
He said yesterday he considered the whole process a “charade”.
“In a way, I feel that we wasted our time,” he said.
“Democracy is not at work here.
“Nine speakers from the floor were against the motion. (Only) 38 per cent of Tamworth residents, in The Northern Daily Leader poll, said they wanted a jail.”
Tamworth Regional Council maintains there is “no factual basis” to speculation the state government has earmarked the city for a new jail to replace the ageing correctional centre.
But the persistent rumours prompted the council last week to reveal it had commenced work on plans for a $300 million development comprising a biogas plant powering a commercial glasshouse operation and, potentially, a new jail.
Cr Mark Rodda, who was the only councillor to vote against the recommendation, told The Leader he was sympathetic to many of the arguments put forward on the night.
“I can understand their concerns and that’s why I opposed that recommendation in its existing form,” he said.
“I didn’t realise the depth of feeling about the prison issue and I am pleased that they actually turned up and told us how they felt.”
Speakers from the public gallery cited statistical evidence from NSW prison towns such as Junee, Kempsey, Nowra and Wellington as clearly justifying why the council should never entertain the idea of a new prison.
“Can we afford to increase the supply of drugs in our local community? Do we want to attract more of these criminal organisations to town?” concerned ratepayer Michelle Bryan asked.
“We, the community, and our law enforcers are already struggling with the level of drug and alcohol-fuelled violence and crime.”