Prison of­fers fi­nan­cial and so­cial boost

West­bury has noth­ing to fear — and lots to gain — from a jail, says Tim Steven­son

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - Tim Steven­son has lived in West­bury for nine years. He was a beef farmer in cen­tral Queens­land and spent 14 years in lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

I BE­LIEVE the site near West­bury makes sense for the pro­posed northern prison.

The lo­ca­tion is in the cen­tral North within a halfhour’s drive of Launce­s­ton and close to the Bass High­way.

It should be seen by the res­i­dents of the area as another industry to sup­port fu­ture pop­u­la­tion and busi­ness growth, pre­dom­i­nantly in West­bury it­self.

Even if most of the con­struc­tion work for the new prison is un­der­taken by state gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors, there is scope for lo­cal West­bury sup­pli­ers and con­trac­tors to also ben­e­fit.

In the longer term it would be ex­pected that, at the min­i­mum, 10 per cent of the per­ma­nent prison work­force would be West­bury res­i­dents. Don’t lose sight of the mul­ti­plier ef­fect, mean­ing that each worker has a larger pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact on the area than just the in­di­vid­ual. More jobs are cre­ated in the ser­vice area, for ex­am­ple, shop staff and coun­cil work­ers, to sup­ply the re­quire­ments of an in­creased pop­u­la­tion.

The area needs more industry to sus­tain the town and its res­i­dents into the fu­ture. Tourism is never go­ing to be the main­stay some would like, as it is too sea­sonal.

A lot of the negativity to­wards the pro­posed prison seems to have been brought about by the way the State Gov­ern­ment went about the Ex­pres­sion of In­ter­est process.

Of course it could have been done bet­ter, but the com­mu­nity needs to move on.

Fear of the un­known has led to talk of a pos­si­ble drop in real es­tate val­ues. The facts sug­gest oth­er­wise, as other pris­ons in sim­i­lar lo­ca­tions in other states show.

I have vis­ited the NSW town of Junee, which has a prison in prox­im­ity and was not even aware the prison was there.

I’ve also vis­ited Wood­ford in Queens­land, which has a large prison in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, and at­tended the an­nual Wood­ford Folk Fes­ti­val which at­tracts tens of thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the town ev­ery New Year.

There doesn’t seem to be any neg­a­tive im­pact on that com­mu­nity, or its vis­i­tors.

Fi­nally, I have two ac­quain­tances who have ex­pe­ri­enced prison life, one who I work with of­ten.

Both made mis­takes, were tried and con­victed, served their time and now are mak­ing a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to their com­mu­ni­ties. They are av­er­age peo­ple who were caught out when they broke the law and have paid the price. The vast ma­jor­ity of pris­on­ers, I be­lieve, fit th­ese cri­te­ria.

I’ve lived in a com­mu­nity in another state that ben­e­fits still from work re­lease pro­grams where low-risk de­tainees close to pa­role are al­lowed out in groups to work on com­mu­nity ben­e­fit projects. I met plenty of them. They were just keen to fin­ish their jail time and get back to liv­ing nor­mal lives.

THEY ARE AV­ER­AGE PEO­PLE WHO WERE CAUGHT OUT WHEN THEY BROKE THE LAW AND HAVE PAID THE PRICE. THE VAST MA­JOR­ITY OF PRIS­ON­ERS, I BE­LIEVE, FIT TH­ESE CRI­TE­RIA

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