Privatisation is Admission of Prison Failure

Media reports over the past weekend represent an alarming move by the NSW Government to reignite the push for greater privatisation of the state’s public correctional centres. In the face of a dramatic increase in prisoner numbers, Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, announced on Sunday that centres that failed to improve their performance would be put to tender for management by the private sector.1

Privatisation of prisons is inherently wrong as it infringes the fundamental rights provided by a democracy to its citizens. The relationship between a state and its citizens is a social contract wherein the individual, having elected to submit to the state, abides by laws created legitimately to ensure maintenance of social order and protection of the public interest. It is impossible for an individual to participate in the same contract with a private company that protects only its own interests. Subcontracting the relationship between the state and its citizens in this way, through prison privatisation, is thus tantamount to slavery. The rights and interests of prisoners would be at the mercy of a private company.

Further criticisms of privatisation have been outlined (link to Privatisation page). Private enterprises driven by profit are placed in a position of conflict if they are mandated to discourage reoffending. This is compounded by the fact that prisons are seen as a ‘growth industry’ by government and the private sector, making the push for privatisation purely about cashing in on public assets2 and maximising the taxpayer’s dollar, while relevantly removing the measures towards transparency and accountability available through public regulation.

The sub-standard operation of Mt Eden Correctional Centre in New Zealand by private contractor Serco is but one source of evidence that the first sacrifices made in pursuit of private interests are at the expense of the very inmates these centres operate to house. Deliberate understaffing of Mt Eden to maximise profit can be linked to organised fights amongst prisoners and prevalence of contraband inside the centre.3 In NSW, privatisation of Parklea Correctional Centre has also failed to solve the overcrowding problem, with the proliferation of instances of three inmates in two-man cells.4

This weekend’s events further solidify the argument that the push for privatisation signifies a refusal of our leaders to commit to improving the NSW prison system. Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin’s clarification that only prisons that do not meet performance targets would be vulnerable5 poses a dangerous dilemma in light of findings published by the Auditor-General earlier this month that such targets themselves are unclear to general management of prisons.

Concerns surrounding increases in inmate populations and rates of recidivism cannot be sufficiently ameliorated through a model of privatisation that ignores the human cost of outsourcing management of prisons. Failure to make change by seeking to contract the problem outside government – and thus extinguish liability for failures of imprisonment (link to FOI page) – is no less than grossly negligent. The ‘market test’ scheme proposed for John Morony Correctional Centre, if successful, will open the floodgates for privatisation of other state prisons, with the end result being a state prison system that is compromised.

[1] Bill Code, ‘Private prisons: NSW Government announces plans to let private operators tender for jail at Windsor’; ABC News Online, 21 March 2016
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/279705/mt-eden-information-flow-inadequat
[4] Rachel Olding, ‘Prison population explosion could lead to two new jails per year’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 2015 <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/prison-population-explosion-could-lead-to-two-new-jails-per-year-20140515-zrdbs.html>
[5] Fairfax Media, ‘NSW prisons in line for privatisation’, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 2016



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