Gaol protesters end five-day picket
PROTESTERS outside Grafton gaol have ended their five-day blockade with the police riot squad preparing to move in.
About 300 people allowed prison vans to enter the gaol after 4am today (Thursday).
State Public Service Association senior industrial officer, Stewart Little, says the Clarence Community Union Alliance made the decision last night (Wednesday) to call off the protest.
“It was pretty clear to us the decision was made they were going to deploy the riot squad at some point,” Mr Little has told Sydney media.
“The safety and wellbeing of the people on the blockade was first and foremost.
“We have grandparents, women and children, we have people in wheelchairs . . . the last thing we wanted to see was someone get hurt,” Mr Little is quoted.
The rally began on Saturday and continued over five nights in protest at plans to turn Grafton Correctional Centre’s 250-bed medium security gaol into a transient facility for 60 prisoners awaiting local court appearances.
Unions say moving prisoners to a new $100 million wing of Cessnock gaol will cost 108 local jobs.
Six vans carried out the last of 100 prisoners from the gaol this morning.
Police Minister Michael Gallacher says the decision was tough but it made financial sense.
“This government will continue to work with Grafton as we do with all communities around the state,” Mr Gallacher is quoted in Sydney media.
“It is going to be a far better financial case moving these prisoners to Cessnock.”
Police Association of New South Wales president, Scott Weber, says prison officers had made a peace gesture as the prison vans moved prisoners out of the gaol.
“To the prison officers’ credit, they stood on the side of the road, arms folded, very depressed, very dissuaded and then they marched off, probably for the very last time,” Mr Weber is quoted.
“It’s a very moving scene.”