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Vic justice system 'in crisis', says Police A -

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ELEANOR HALL: Today's announcement of yet another taskforce to tackle the bikie menace in Victoria has reignited concerns about whether the state's prison system can handle any extra inmates.

The problem's already so acute that prison vans are forced to wait in the street holding prisoners until they are due in court.

Yesterday a Hells Angel failed to make it to court because of the overload in the holding cells.

In Melbourne, Kesha West reports.

KESHA WEST: It's an issue that just won't go away for the Napthine Government.

Today it was the Police Association speaking out.

Bruce McKenzie says the state's justice system is in crisis, plain and simple.

BRUCE MCKENZIE: Police cells in all places throughout Victoria where police cells exist are bursting at the seams. We've got prisoners incarcerated in overcrowded conditions, we've got prisoners who are starting to fight amongst themselves, such is their frustration at being locked up in inappropriate facilities for long periods of time. And on top of all of that we have police officers who are babysitting prisoners throughout Victoria who really ought to be doing police work.

KESHA WEST: Mr McKenzie says the problem needs to be fixed now, warning the current system is unsustainable.

In recent weeks several magistrates have also taken the unusual step of speaking out in court about the chronic problems facing the Victorian justice system.

The Premier Denis Napthine says the overcrowding problem was inherited from the previous Labor government.

DENIS NAPTHINE: They were advised three times by the Department of Justice to build more prison beds and they rejected that advice. And we faced a genuine shortfall. So we've opened, since we've been in government, 680 additional prison beds in the time we've been in government. And we've got 2,500 additional prison beds in the pipeline.

KESHA WEST: Opposition Attorney-General Martin Pakula says the Napthine Government has been in office for three years and blaming the previous government is just passing the buck.

MARTIN PAKULA: If you're going to have an agenda which means more arrests, you're going to have more people charged, you're going to have fewer guilty pleas, you have to invest the money in the system to make it work. There's no point just, just demonstrating how macho you are, if you're not prepared to put in the investment behind it.

KESHA WEST: Mr Pakula says the Government's crime agenda is only exacerbating the chronic problems facing the state's justice and prison system.

MARTIN PAKULA: You've got police, hundreds of operational police, who are effectively acting as Corrections Victoria staff. You've got Legal Aid unable to represent people. You've got courts unable to hear matters because prisoners aren't being brought before the courts.

You've got those prisoners being released on bail. And you've got massive fines or costs being awarded against Corrections Victoria because they're not bringing prisoners before the courts when their matters are on.

KESHA WEST: Premier Denis Napthine says the Government is working with corrections and the court system to try to alleviate the problems.

DENIS NAPTHINE: The Attorney-General's already advised that there's a number of scheduling of court cases at weekends to try and deal with the situation. We are very keen to make sure that people get justice as quickly as possible. And we're also very keen to send a very strong message that we are tough on crime.

KESHA WEST: The Police Association's Bruce McKenzie has offered a possible short term solution to the problem.

BRUCE MCKENZIE: We've encouraged the Napthine Government to look at this problem in the short term and try and address it. Perhaps by creating a medium term, a medium term prison out of an existing disused facility, perhaps, for low risk prisoners. That might ease the burden on the current situation.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Bruce McKenzie from the Police Association Victoria ending Kesha West's report from Melbourne.