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Call For Independent Report On Privatising Prisons

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, July 29 NZPA - The Government is being called on to order an independent review into privatising prisons before going ahead.

Parliament's law and order select committee is considering a bill to allow private management of prisons.

Prison guards union, the Corrections Association of New Zealand, and Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey both called for the independent work to be done.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said a privatisation agenda was being pushed with no research to back it up.

"There is no comparison to show that we are more expensive than anyone else. We all know what prisons cost ... but it doesn't mean we are more expensive than anyone else -- we're just expensive.

"What are you comparing it with?"

Prof Kelsey told the committee she was concerned that private prisons could hide from public scrutiny, citing commercial confidentiality and the lack of regulation.

She recommended the committee defer the legislation until an independent review was done.

Mr Hanlon said special responsibilities came when a person lost their liberty and they lay with the state.

He said the government operated prisons were run cheaper than Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) which was run under private contractor GEO Ltd between 2000 and 2005.

"There aren't any studies to say prisons in New Zealand are more expensive than other places. Where is all the reports that have been done? This is just somebody's idea of let's privatise prisons."

Mr Hanlon said prisons such as Ngawha near Kaikohe were vital for the local economy.

Staff salaries were spent locally and produce and services were used, but when private operators ran prisons corners were cut.

Staff were paid less, affecting communities.

"The money the government actually pays, the taxpayer dollar, isn't less it's just the money that's going to the Corrections staff is less so the money is going offshore."

Privatising Ngawha would cut the local community's "legs off during a recession".

He raised problems using private contractors, citing the Liam Ashley case where the 17-year-old was killed in a Chubb prison van.

"Part of that was the communications problems ... when you've got a private contractor that's not connected to the same systems and processes that the prison is."

Mr Hanlon cited international examples of problems at private prisons over the past year that included deaths, assaults, riots and high rates of officers being hurt.

Canada conducted an experiment where two similar prisons were built in comparable areas -- one run by the state and other public, he said.

After five years PriceWaterhouseCoopers did a study and found the public prison outperformed the private one in all areas.

Mr Hanlon said measures such as fines for private prisons did not work. He said in Western Australia sanctions were added to the next month's operating cost bill so the state paid its own fine.

He said there was no reason penalties could not be used now.

"There's no reason you can't do that to the CEO or manager, take it out of their wages."

In a separate submission 30 prison officers who worked for ACRP said management focused on protecting the company's reputation.

They said under GEO staff were told to resign rather than have negligence revealed, an incident where a woman allegedly helped a relative escape was not investigated, and systems were not robust in areas like drug control and suicide.

Prof Kelsey told the committee if private prisons went ahead a code of practice should be added to the bill requiring particular inmate needs to be met; preventing recruitment from the state sector; banning private industry employment of prison labour at lower rates than in the market; and disclosing pay and conditions.

Prof Kelsey said independent disciplinary procedures would need to be established, with all searches recorded and open to independent checks. Monthly monitoring should be done and access to information guaranteed.

She also recommended a prison ombudsman who would investigate complaints, consider monitoring reports, and investigate contracts.

NZPA

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