Views on private prisons

April 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday looks at the private prison debate:

The news of a declining number of people returning to jail comes as work gathers pace on a new $300 million private prison being built at Wiri, South Auckland, due to open next year.

Currently, the country’s only other privately operated jail is the 960-bed Mt Eden remand prison in Auckland.

Critics believe the construction of a for-profit facility signals a move towards more of the public system being placed in private hands. Even libertarians believe law and order is the most basic function of government. Surely justice and prisons are the last things we should privatise?

As I have previously blogged, almost all our prosecutions are done by private law firms. It’s been this way for decades. If you think the private sector has no role in providing services in the justice sector, then to be consistent you should be advocating for Crown Law to hire hundreds of extra lawyers and take on all prosecutions itself.

He believes Serco has learned from teething troubles he encountered during his time at Mt Eden. By its second year in charge, Serco had vastly improved its performance and was meeting 95 per cent of the targets set for its six-year deal.

The latest report is here. Mt Eden is outperforming most public prisons on (not having) prison escapes, positive drug tests, violence rates and rehabilitation and also exceeding its targets on reducing assaults, positive drug tests and complaints.

In the face of problems overseas, why are we building a $300m private facility at Wiri? The New Zealand Government will be locked into a 25-year contract, for which Serco is obliged to outperform public prisons by 10 per cent – meaning it will have to show a 27.5 per cent reduction in reoffending, the same as at its Mt Eden operation.

Excellent. Set a higher target for the private prison. If reoffending drops then everyone is a winner.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour’s Corrections spokeswoman, warns that future governments may have to prop up because of the long-term contracts. “The secrecy surrounding the deal with Serco is a concern,” she adds. “Would Government have to start injecting vast sums of money into the private sector if things started to go wrong? We should be spending money on cutting crime and making the streets safer, not building more expensive prisons.”

What secrecy? The contract for the management of Mt Eden Prison is on the Corrections website. And it’s a silly statement that means nothing to say we should spend more money on cutting crime, not building more expensive prisons. It isn’t a choice of one or another. The Government is spending heaps more on rehabilitation which cuts crime, and the crime rate is dropping significantly. However some of the existing prisons are almost falling apart and their facilities are ancient. Having a more modern prison like at Wiri will assist rehabilitation. So it is not a choice of one or another.

Private prisons, by their nature, have a vested interest in crime rates staying high. That’s according to Dr Jarrod Gilbert, University of Canterbury sociologist and gang expert. “It costs more than $92,000 a year to keep a prisoner locked up in New Zealand, so there has to be a conflict of interest when it comes to rehabilitating people if you are making money from them being in your facility.”

Oh what nonsense. Their contract requires them to reduce reoffending rates. They don’t get paid if they fail.

Does Dr Gilbert also argue that private law firms should be banned from being crown prosecutors because they have a vested interest in keeping crime rates high?

One recent convert to the private system is Mike Williams, former president of the Labour Party and chief executive of penal reform organisation the Howard League.

“We have the second-highest incarceration rate in the world behind the United States and have had a sky-high rate of reoffending,” he says.

“It is time to bring some new thinking into the system and the new focus on having less people return to jail is welcome. It is an experiment that is worth a go.”

Even the hardline Sensible Sentencing Trust is behind Corrections Minister Tolley’s drive to cut re-offending. “If private companies can do a better job of turning criminals into decent human beings, then we are all for trying it,” says spokesman Garth McVicar.

If Mike Williams and Garth McVicar agree on something, then that says something.

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27 Responses to “Views on private prisons”

  1. Ed Snack (1,873 comments) says:

    The fuss over privately built prisons is quite simply intended to keep the strength of the public sector unions undiluted; as such it has nothing whatsoever to do with ownership or justice or anything like that, it’s purely a power play.

    People ignore the fact that when a prison is run on contract, the government retains extensive rights to review and enforce proper standards within that prison. In fact I’d argue that they have more control, not less, as there isn’t the conflict with the PSA over any actions or activities by the staff. There can be a proper arms length and rigorous supervision regime with effective sanctions if conditions aren’t met. Otherwise you get regulatory capture when the same people are running and regulating the place, and in such a situation the regulation becomes ineffective.

    Note that this doesn’t deny that cronyism can reduce the effectiveness of the arrangement, however that should be an easier problem to deal with and one far more open to public scrutiny. I’m all for this trial.

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  2. eziryder (15 comments) says:

    Exactly Ed. Everybody innately knows that governments are hopeless at running anything (why aren’t we running down to the 4Gov dairy to buy our milk and newspaper?) Hence the screeching by dyed in the wool collectivists about the experiments with the last bastions of government “businesses”, i.e. private prisons and charter schools.

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  3. dime (9,972 comments) says:

    “The secrecy surrounding the deal with Serco is a concern,” – shes not real bright eh

    the jacinda cycle – labour decide shes ready, she pops up all over the place. people cant believe how thick she is. she vanishes. reappears 6 months later. repeat cycle

    Dime doesnt love the idea of private prisons, but Dime hates unions. The screw union needs to be broken before we consider ditching private prisons.

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  4. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Ed
    Your point about regulatory capture doesn’t make much sense. Prison officers have their own union – not the PSA. Some PSA members at Corrections head office might be involved in regulatory matters, but there would only be a few and they would belong to the PSA, a different union.

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  5. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/private-prisons-performing-worse-than-staterun-jails-1722936.html

    It ranks the prisons out of four gradings using a wide range of measurements, including escapes, assaults and rehabilitation. In the second quarter of last year, the average overall score for prisons in the private sector was 2.7. For the 123 public sector prisons the average was 2.83.

    In the following quarter this gap had widened to 2.6 and 2.85. This is a difference of almost 10 per cent. No private prison attained the top mark of 4, defined as “exceptional performance.”

    – nearly twice as many prisoner complaints are upheld in private prisons as they are in state-run institutions.

    – four of the 10 private prisons scored the second lowest rating of 2, “requiring development”, and only one above an assessment of “serious concern.”

    – a private prison run by G4S, which has been a focus of particular criticism since it opened in 2001, saw a total of 22 complaints, well above the average in both the public and private sectors.

    – HOWEVER: A Prison Service spokesperson said:

    “To claim that there is a difference in performance between public and private prisons based on these statistics is entirely misleading. It is also disingenuous to try to compare the average rating of the 122 publicly run prisons with the 11 privately run prisons. The sample sizes make these calculations a nonsense. The introduction of privately managed prisons has helped to generate significant overall improvements in value for money and performance, including in the public sector, which has been energised by the more competitive environment.”

    So it appears its still very much open to opinion as to whether they actually work or not – I suspect privately run prisons would have more incentive to ‘get it right’ than the current system as far as service and security delivery, although take on board the argument that it is in their best interests to ‘increase prison numbers’ – and therefore do little to reduce re-offending.

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  6. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Meanwhile at the State run prison for very bad bastards.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11232997

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  7. Harriet (4,972 comments) says:

    $92,000.00 PER YEAR to re-habilate someone is a complete fucken joke when it can be done at an earlier date for just $8000!!!!

    Prisons were NEVER invented as a last resort! The reason they are a last resort is because they have ALWAYS been poorly managed!

    Here is a well managed prison:

    Lock people away for there 3rd conviction. For 4 weeks.

    You only go to jail for your annual holidays with 1 week off for good behaviour.

    Mum keeps the holiday pay and the car and you keep your job. Everyone wins.

    Like Japan you can’t talk in prison. And due to you being there for just 3-4 weeks you don’t need meat or exercise. UN legal crap is then invalid. You work 12hr days while in there and read the rest of the time.

    13 people a year can then be imprisoned for just $8000 each.

    Most people will then change their behaviour because they are being jailed not only for their annual work holidays – but at the start of their ‘criminal life’.
    And let’s face it – who the fuck would re-book a prison as a holiday destination for their annual working holidays?

    No one will ‘get cred’ for going to jail for a month, and all those in prison will have no time for inmates who will see them lose their good behaviour reduction – the last week of their annual hoildays to spend with the family or at the beach.

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  8. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Private is the way to go, any operation that incurs interference from PSA and its members has, and always will be, a total loss. Mr Ed (Ardern) is worried because Labour get capitation fees from PSA members, and the more sloths they can put on the payroll, the more for rainbow room boys to spend on funny toys.

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  9. dirty harry (489 comments) says:

    That’s according to Dr Jarrod Gilbert, University of Canterbury sociologist and gang expert. “It costs more than $92,000 a year blah blah ”

    He’s got a doctorate..he must be right

    He’s a uni sociologist…he must be right

    He’s an expert on gangs…he must be right..

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  10. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Their contract requires them to reduce reoffending rates. They don’t get paid if they fail.

    And that right there is the key to everything. In Australia (and possibly NZ) they are also fined if someone escapes their custody. And a raft of other measures, including inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-guard violence, and the number of complaints by inmates, also affects the amount they get paid.

    Yes, there could be a perverse incentive to ensure high levels of reoffending so as to keep their facilities full. But if the contract is structured properly then the incentives for meeting the sorts of targets I’ve mentioned outweigh that. After all, fewer prisoners is going to mean fewer acts of violence because overcrowding ends, and so on.

    Of course there will be a theoretical point at which it becomes uneconomic to operate, and the incentive of which Dr Gilbert speaks becomes an issue. He’d be a lot more use if he ran the actual contract figures through some modelling software and told us precisely what that point was, so we could start thinking about what to do if it occurs, than speaking as though it’s already happening.

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  11. freemark (580 comments) says:

    I was part of the process where NZ Corrections Officers were interviewing for positions with Serco at Mt Eden. The major focus was identifying people who had a really big commitment to inmate safety & rehabilitation – which is what Serco is all about in these Nact written Contracts. Some of those who I interviewed blew me away with their Mana & empathy, there were a few whose reality was overtime rates & security of employment. I’m pretty heavily involved atm in other aspects of Corrections.. from making life more comfortable/giving privacy to those subject to double bunking – to beefing up the Security and reducing Inmate self harm opportunities in Prisons. MOJ has an increasing very strong mandate & focus on safety, security & value for taxpayer dollar. Anything else you hear is Lefty bullshit.
    Disclaimer: apart from a few $100 of contract work 3 or 4 years ago I have no r/ship of any nature with Serco.

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  12. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    He’s got a doctorate..he must be right

    He’s a uni sociologist…he must be right

    He’s an expert on gangs…he must be right..

    Nobody listen to the experts! What do they know!?!?!

    The reason that private prisons are wrong has nothing to do with efficiency and everything to do with the fact that it is people profiting from state inflicted human misery. Like any business, private prison owners are interested in growth, so they are likely to lobby for policies that produce more prisoners. It’s different with prosecutors, because they aren’t in the punishing business.

    Inflicting misery on other human beings is not an appropriate object of profit driven commerce, full stop. Similarly, breeding children for sale, or allowing rich people to pay massive fines to avoid jail time is wrong.

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  13. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    Yes, there could be a perverse incentive to ensure high levels of reoffending so as to keep their facilities full. But if the contract is structured properly then the incentives for meeting the sorts of targets I’ve mentioned outweigh that.

    There’s always a way.

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  14. cha (4,020 comments) says:

    There’s always a way.

    Lobbying for tougher sentencing and getting paid for non existent inmates seem to be the way to guarantee a profit.

    http://www.policymic.com/articles/65223/colorado-is-giving-2-million-to-a-private-prison-company-for-nonexistent-inmates

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  15. Kieran_B (76 comments) says:

    Genuine question – what does Serco have to do with rehabilitation/reoffending rates at Mount Eden, given it’s only a remand prison?

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  16. freemark (580 comments) says:

    Genuine answer – I imagine that when you have some prisoners on remand for extended periods of time there is an opportunity to influence their attitudes & behaviour. That was the impression I got.
    IMO opposition to Private Prisons (& Private anything) is only as it reduces the potential for Socialist parties to control the reeducation of inmates & clip the ticket via Unions – – they need these simple minds & proceeds to buy elections, keep their ignorant supporters bribed and their own troughs full.

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  17. David Garrett (7,292 comments) says:

    kieran: good point, and one I have wondered about also.

    freemark: by definition, rehabilitation measures re-offending which occurs – or doesnt occur – AFTER a person has been sentenced.

    And note that in the article Mike Williams repeats the old falsehood about us having “the second highest imprisonment rate in the world”… As that hardline right wing conservative Graeme Edgeler has pointed out, we are in fact about seventh in the OECD and some other number way down from second in “the world”….Despite this “second in the world” claim being demonstrably wrong, the left keep on repeating it, and the MSM keep on reporting it….

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  18. David Garrett (7,292 comments) says:

    Tom you tool: How exactly does Serco or any other private operator ensure there is a growing demand for the service they provide? Bribing judges or paying police to arrest people are the only ways I can see they could do that….And I guess in your crazy leftie world that is happening?

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  19. cha (4,020 comments) says:

    .And I guess in your crazy leftie world that is happening?

    . There’s an awful lot of smoke around Dave.

    http://www.piconetwork.org/news-media/news/2011/0206

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-judge-receives-28year-jail-term-for-his-role-in–kidsforcash-kickbacks-8598147.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal

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  20. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    David Garrett (5,070 comments) says:
    April 6th, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Tom you tool: How exactly does Serco or any other private operator ensure there is a growing demand for the service they provide? Bribing judges or paying police to arrest people are the only ways I can see they could do that….And I guess in your crazy leftie world that is happening?

    You make it sound as if Serco is a charitable institution here to save the NZ tax-payer money by making a loss through incarcerating our inmates for us, this is a multinational corporation here to turn a profit for its investors. How is Serco’s prison scandal going in the UK: UK chief Jeremy Stafford departs from scandal-hit Serco

    Mr Stafford’s position has looked increasingly untenable since Serco found itself vilified by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in July for overcharging the taxpayer for the tagging of criminals, some of whom were back in prison, overseas or dead.
    Alongside G4S, the rival outsourcing group embroiled in the tagging scandal, Serco quickly found itself barred from bidding for new central Government contracts and facing an SFO probe. The pair are effectively frozen out of any new Government contracts until the Cabinet Office completes a review of all their existing ones, while accountant PriceWaterhouseCoopers finishes an audit.

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  21. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    @ Yoza, Serco is a commercial enterprise using good business practice to perform the task of managing those who after showing repeated contempt for our laws and justice, are ordered to be confined.

    The NZ prison service is manned with people doing their hours with only regard for themselves. Their safety, Pay and conditions, where is there any incentive to make a difference as Serco are contractually required to do all the time.

    Watching idiots like Bevan Hanlon pretending to perform would be comedy hour if we the taxpayers were not paying for it.

    Of course to a committed socialist such as you demonstrate nearly every time you comment you have no clue what I am talking about.

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  22. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    gravedodger (1,425 comments) says:
    April 6th, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    @ Yoza, Serco is a commercial enterprise using good business practice to perform the task of managing those who after showing repeated contempt for our laws and justice, are ordered to be confined.

    With a track record in the UK so appalling their contracts have been suspended while they are investigated. Hardly confidence inspiring stuff, at least publically run prisons are not motivated to maximize profits for their owners through dodgy scams.

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  23. Johnboy (16,597 comments) says:

    Privately operated prisons should be empowered to harvest any useful body parts from the inmates to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of keeping shit alive to offend again! :)

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  24. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    Johnboy (13,271 comments) says:
    April 6th, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Privately operated prisons should be empowered to harvest any useful body parts from the inmates to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of keeping shit alive to offend again!

    Meanwhile, …back on planet Earth. I remember reading somewhere how the private prison industrial complex is just another manifestation of the on going class war being waged by the corporate overlords against everyone else. The economic conditions which produced the desperation among the targeted underclass were the consequence of an affluent few having a disproportionate influence on the decision making process. Having created a desperate underclass the same ruling elite now plan to profit from incarcerating the victims of the economic system they designed.

    Private prisons are just another morsel fueling the feeding frenzy of the rich.

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  25. Johnboy (16,597 comments) says:

    It’s done in planet China Yoza. They are now our bestest friends! :)

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  26. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    Judith, why are you posting facts about UK run prisons? It is completely irrelevant to prisons in NZ. If you want to talk about those particular statistics then get the ACTUAL figures from private and public prisons in NZ.

    Comparing figures from the other side of the world, particularly from a country where they spend twice as much per capita on welfare than New Zealand, is ridiculous.

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  27. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    seanmaitland (395 comments) says:
    April 6th, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Judith, why are you posting facts about UK run prisons?

    I would have thought the reason was glaringly obvious. Serco, the corporation running the New Zealand Prisoners for Private Profit scam, is one of the big two that run the same scam in the UK.

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