Judicial officers are fed up with remand prisoners not being transported to the Ballarat courts due to overcrowded prisons and police cells.
Victoria Police confirmed on Friday the Ballarat Police Station holding cells were at full capacity, which is believed to be equipped to hold about 12 people.
Last week, reserve magistrate Clive Alsop said it was a disgrace a remand prisoner had not been transported from Melbourne to Ballarat for a bail application hearing.
“It’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace,” Mr Alsop said.
The accused’s lawyer, Adrian Paull, told the magistrate it was the second time his client had not been brought to court for a bail application hearing and he would be in custody for another three weeks.
“The system is overburned at the moment,” Mr Paull said.
Four remand prisoners facing a one-day committal hearing on Wednesday were not transported to Ballarat.
Their barristers told the court they could not be accommodated in the police cells due to security issues.
The hearing was adjourned for four months to December.
A County Court judge, sitting in Ballarat this week, said there was a problem with overcrowding in police cells.
His comments came after prisoner Joseph Johnson was not transported from jail to Ballarat on Wednesday and Thursday for an appeal hearing, despite the judge making two jail orders.
The judge then decided to bail Mr Johnson because it was not guaranteed the cells could accommodate him, and he travelled to the Ballarat Law Courts on his own for Friday’s hearing.
Mr Johnson told The Courier after Friday’s court hearing that twice this week he was ready to be transported from Port Phillip Prison to Ballarat but he and three other prisoners were told they would not be going because the police cells were full.
He said it was stressful for prisoners when their court hearings could not progress.
“Prisoners think twice about appealing excessive sentences because we lose progress, lose our place in the queue for things, like programs, and it disrupts our rehabilitation process,” Mr Johnson said.
Tougher bail laws, introduced on July 1, are partly responsible for the rise in the number of prisoners being held in police cells state-wide.
Victoria Police Regional Superintendent Jenny Wilson said there were other significant reasons.
Superintendent Wilson said the rise in the number of prisoners in police custody included increased police arrests and remands, increased focus on the execution of warrants of apprehension, arrests from targeted operations and a focus on recidivist offenders.
A new family violence team had started in Ballarat, which had seen increased police activity.
Superintendent Wilson said Victoria Police had been working with the courts and Corrections Victoria to resolve the issues.
“We want to assure the community the police station remains fully operational and service to the community has not been disrupted,” she said.
Corrections Victoria said the increased number of remand prisoners was largely due to a rise in the number of people being refused bail, especially for violent offences.
Ballarat senior criminal lawyer Scott Belcher said under the new bail act, it was harder for an accused person to be given bail, even if they were facing minor charges.
“The whole purpose of re-writing or reforming the bail act was to tighten up bail in Victoria, ease pressure on the custody system and pay closer scrutiny to those offenders who present a serious risk or a threat to community protection,” Mr Belcher said.
“Instead, there is stock piling of alleged offenders of a lesser risk who could otherwise be appropriately managed by the courts, cases are being delayed and the state’s detention facilities are being stretched beyond maximum capacity.”
Remand prisoners make up about 35 per cent of the total prisoner population, a significant increase on the previous decade where numbers remained stable at 18 to 20 per cent of the overall population.
“A range of measures have been introduced in recent years to manage the increase in remandees and help prisoners appear in court on time, including increased use of video conferencing in courts,” a Corrections Victoria spokesperson said.
“More than 2000 prison beds have opened over the past four years and more than 1200 beds will open progressively over the next few years, which will increase remand beds across the prison system.”
Corrections Victoria works closely with police and the courts to ensure prisoners are moved into corrections custody as quickly as possible, the spokesperson said.
Minister for Corrections Gayle Tierney did not respond to The Courier’s questions before deadline.
Have you signed up to The Courier's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.