Concerns over Warrnambool police cell congestion

Concerns have been raised over cell congestion at Warrnambool police station. 

A source revealed to The Standard that there have been upwards of 20 people detained in the cells at one time.

Warrnambool’s holding cells were previously listed to hold a maximum of 10 people, but after a recent review the Victorian Government Gazette lifted the capacity to 18 people to be detained for no more than 14 days. 

Those changes came into effect on July 24. 

Warrnambool region Inspector Gary Coombes confirmed there were about 20 people held in the cells on Friday, August 3. 

“But that was a short-term thing and we are absolutely back down to what we call a manageable level,” he said. 

“The number usually fluctuates between four to eight, it really depends, but it is certainly back within our capacity to manage.” 

Inspector Coombes said the overcrowding was due to a “bizarre set of circumstances”, where a large number of people had been remanded at the same time. 

He said changes to the Victorian Bail Act had lead to an increase in the number of people being remanded in custody. 

”This was a freakish amount that may have temporarily put pressure on our cell capacity, but it is not a common thing at all,” he said. 

Victoria’s bail system received a major overhaul this year, with tough new laws meaning senior police are able to remand a person in custody for up to 48 hours until a court can hear their application for bail.

The test for people to be granted bail has also been strengthened, with people who are charged with serious offences having to show compelling reasons or exceptional circumstances to be granted bail. 

Inspector Coombes said the changes meant police were seeking remands of people more readily. 

“This might mean we start to sustain high numbers and how we manage that is something that we are working on internally,” he said. 

“It is not something that is impacting on our service delivery whatsoever but it is something that we’ve got on our radar and we are addressing it as best we can.” 

Due to potentially more prisoners being held in the Warrnambool cells, that may impact on the number of police officers called on to assist with prisoner management, especially at night when police custody officers currently do not work.