Serco sacked

December 9th, 2015 at 1:38 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Private prison operator Serco’s contract to run the troubled Mt Eden Corrections Facility will not be renewed.

The company’s contract is up for review, and Corrections chief executive Ray Smith has recommended that it should not be extended beyond next year.

The Herald understands that the Cabinet has now approved Mr Smith’s recommendation.

This is the good thing about contracts – if a supplier doesn’t perform, their contract doesn’t get renewed.

Serco in trouble

November 27th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

NBR reports:

Serco has mounted a legal challenge about a draft report by the Department of Corrections into the way the private prison operator has run Mt Eden prison.

Concerns about Serco’s performance, particularly in relation to the allegedly high incidence of violence at the Mt Eden institution, resulted in Corrections taking over running the prison in Julyand an inquiry being launched.

The basis for Serco seeking a judicial review of the report, which is still being considered by Corrections’ chief executive Ray Smith, is that the company claims it didn’t have sufficient opportunity to comment on and respond to it.

It must be damning if they are going to court.

If Serco are unable to meet the levels of performance they agreed to in their contract, then there are contractual remedies for that. That is the good thing about a contract for services.

Prisoners do lie

October 2nd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Another Serco-run private prison is under fire after prisoner allegations that serious assaults are going unreported.

Labour’s Kelvin Davis told Radio NZ that an inmate at the Auckland South Corrections Facility at Wiri alleged prisoners were being locked down for long periods of the day and serious unreported beatings were happening in the prison.

Prisoners make lots of allegations, including that they are all innocent.

At Mt Eden some of the allegations have been proven false, while some have been substantiated, and there is an independent investigation into these.

But this does not mean allegations from a single prisoner at another prison are credible, especially when they appear to be contradicted by the evidence.

Davis told Radio NZ Wiri was well on its way to becoming like Mt Eden, which the Corrections Departments took over the running of when evidence of fight clubs and contraband were revealed.

Complaints about Wiri were detailed in an email to Davis sent from an inmate’s wife.

“He’s very concerned – he’s said there’s already serious beatings happening – and he doesn’t believe they’re all being reported.

“There are also units being locked down for 23 hours a day, there is no staff on the floor so you can never find anyone and no-one is ever observing what the inmates are doing,” Davis said.

Would be very easy to check if they are locked down for 23 hours a day. Has he checked, or just gone with the allegation?

However McNairn said all prisoners at Wiri are in work, education or training and “the majority spend busy purposeful days in vocational training, work or attending courses, as well as family and legal visits, sporting and cultural activities”.

In-cell technology means that prisoners can continue to learn even when they are locked up, he said.

Some MPs visited Wiri prison a few weeks ago and on the surface everything looked fine, Davis said.

“But we don’t know what happened once the gates were closed behind us.

So Davis himself has been there and saw nothing to back the allegation.

Prisoners have telephones in their cells and can use them to raise any concerns including contacting the Inspectorate and the Ombudsman to lay complaints via an 0800 number.

Wiri is also subject to “daily scrutiny from four experienced Department of Corrections staff working as prison monitors and a relationship manager, as well as independent oversight,” McNairn said.

I think the Corrections staff would have noticed 23 hour lockdowns.

So does this means we should sack Corrections and hand them over to Serco?

August 25th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Department of Corrections has been criticised for failing to provide proper medical care for two inmates, one of whom eventually died.

The dead man, a Spring Hill inmate in his 50s with a range of health problems, complained of pain for weeks before he was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013.

He went into hospice care and later died.

Corrections have since apologised to the man’s partner.

If this was a private prison, Labour and the unions would be demanding that the prison operator be sacked, and that the prison management be transferred to the state.

As this death occurred in a public prison, will anyone make a fuss, and demand it be handed over to say a private operator?

My point is that neither public nor private operators get it entirely right. I want a level playing field where they are judged equally on the results, not slammed by politicians only if they are privately managed.

Corrections takes over Mt Eden

July 24th, 2015 at 3:46 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Corrections Department has confirmed plans to take over Serco’s management of Mt Eden Correctional Facility.

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu Iiga said this afternoon that a management team would take over the day to day running of the prison from Monday “for the immediate future”.

Serco’s staff would remain on site, but a Corrections Department Prison Director and their team would oversee the prison. …

As part of Serco’s contract, Government has power to step in and manage the prison either on a temporary or permanent basis.

You wonder what has been discovered for the Government to take this step?

But this is the good with with accountable contracts. If a provider fails to meet standards, then they can be held accountable – either fined, overseen, or ultimately replaced.

Serco has to pay for the cost of the staff stepping in.

Mt Eden Prison

July 24th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga probably thought he was having a bad day on Wednesday. But things keep getting worse.

The minister has been thrown under a train by his department after it confirmed serious incidents at Mt Eden prison that, if not entirely proving allegations by Labour MP Kelvin Davis about a cover-up over the death of another prisoner, point to exactly the sort of standover tactics and violence that he claims to be rife at the privately-run prison.

Those allegations include an inmate being chased off a landing before being assaulted by another inmate and hospitalised with leg and ankle fractures.

It’s hard to know what is truth, and what isn’t. Some of the allegations are false (such as being thrown off a balcony) while some such as the fight club are proven. Because it is a private prison, it has political enemies who are determined to do everything possible to undermine it.

The nature of prisons which house the most violent and recidivist offenders in society means that there will always be some violent incidents between prisoners. Unless you keep every prisoner in solitary 24/7.

The Mount Eden Corrections Facility has been ranked the top performing prison of the 17 prisons in NZ.

They are contracted to ensure assault are below a certain level (0.9 per 100 prisoners) or they get fined and eventually could lose the contract.

As far as I can see the Government hasn’t released data on what the assault rate is at Mt Eden, and how it compares to the other 16 prisons. This would be useful to allow us to judge if there is an issue at Mt Eden.

Now the assault rate is only one measure. As I said some assaults are unavoidable. The key thing is are staff acting to stop them as soon as possible, and take preventative measures when they know of a high risk. The fight club videos suggest they have not, and there needs to be real scrutiny of what has happened there (and it is being investigated).

The other allegations are not yet substantiated. They also need to be investigated, but I’d be cautious about assuming every allegation is correct.

The Government’s political response hasn’t been adequate. It should have out there the data on comparative assault rates in prisons. It shouldn’t be last to hear about these allegations.

An innovative prison

May 6th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cells in all New Zealand jails may soon be fitted out with phones and computers in a bid to boost prisoners’ educational levels so that they can get jobs and stop reoffending after their release.

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga is welcoming a controversial decision by British prison operator Serco to put phones and computers into every standard cell in its new $270 million jail for 960 men, which opens at Wiri in South Auckland on Friday.

This is the private prison provider that Labour and Greens vow to close down, regardless of how successful it is.

Prisoners will use the phones to make pre-arranged calls to family members and services such as counselling, but they will not be able to receive calls and their outgoing calls will be monitored. They will use the computers for study, to book appointments and even to change their meal menus.

“We believe that prisoners with access to this electronic learning tool are going to be more successful in increasing their education and skills. It is an advance I would like to see in all New Zealand prisons,” Mr Lotu-Iiga said.

Some prisoners can not be rehabilitated, but some can. If a prisoner can get a job after prison, this reduces the chance of re-offending.

But Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar said he was “appalled” by the move, saying it would actually create an incentive to offend.

“My grandchildren are out selling firewood to pay for their computers to learn their computer skills in school,” he said. “Why not take a shortcut and wait until you’ve committed a crime and then you get it all on the taxpayer?”

With respect, I don’t think anyone is going to be deciding to commit crimes just so they can go to prison to access a computer!

Prisons already have computers. This is about having one available in each cell, rather than just in the communal areas.

Serco Asia-Pacific operations manager Scott McNairn said the computers were part of a “responsible prisoner” approach, aimed at giving prisoners the education and skills needed to get jobs, homes, a driver’s licence and other things they would need to live a law-abiding life after serving their time.

“Prisoners will be able to manage their own affairs, book their [family] visits, book their appointments, book their food,” he said.

Sounds good. And one of the reasons why it is good to have an innovate private provider.

The Open Polytechnic has created interactive educational software designed to encourage students who may not have had a successful education experience and who have low language or maths literacy. The Howard League, which campaigns for penal reform, says 50 to 60 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate.

The software has been tested using tablets with 10 prisoners at Serco’s Mt Eden Prison, where one inmate said his letters improved so much that his partner thought someone else was writing them for him.


Serco said Wiri prisoners would use fixed television screens that double as computers, each with a keypad and mouse. They will not have internet access.

That would be unwise.

Serco has a 25-year, $840 million contract bound by 1475 pages of conditions including $600,000 penalties for security breaches such as a killing or a riot, matched by bonuses of up to $1.5 million a year if it cuts reoffending to at least 10 to 15 per cent below the average of other New Zealand jails.

This is what Labour and Greens want to scrap!

The top performing prison is the one the opposition want to close down!

May 9th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The latest prison performance stats are here. Of the 17 prisons:

  • 13 are deemed effective
  • Three are exceeding their targets (Arohata, Tongariro and Waikeria)
  • One is deemed exceptional – Mount Eden

So Mount Eden is the only prison in New Zealand that is deemed exceptional for its rehabilitation – and that is the one Labour and Greens want to sack – purely on ideological grounds.

Putting ideology ahead of effective rehabilitate – very wrong.


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 private prisons 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.

Why does Labour never rail against private crown prosecutors?

January 23rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Crown Law Office has just published the terms of office for crown solicitors. Many outside the legal profession may be unaware that Crown Law prosecutes very few cases directly. They contract private law firms and lawyers to do it for them as Crown Solicitors.

For those interested the remuneration rates are $240 an our for a senior prosecutor, $192 for an intermediate one and $140 for a junior prosecutor. This is rather more than legal aid rates which vary from $92 an hour to $159 an hour.

Now I’ve got no issue with the long-standing practice of having private law firms be contracted to Crown Law to prosecute criminals. And I presume Labour doesn’t either, as they never changed the practice when in Government, and have no policy to do so.

But it makes me wonder how it fits in with their jihad against private prisons. They say:

Labour believes that incarceration should be the responsibility of the state. There are few more serious powers that a government has than taking away someone’s liberty.

We believe that the act of taking away someone’s liberty and freedom is one of the most invasive state responsibilities, and as such needs to be handled as a core state role.

So on this basis, how can Labour claim the private sector can have no role in managing the prison, but they are fine to prosecute the offenders which leads to them going into prison? I’d say prosecution is arguably far more of a core crown responsibility than merely managing a prison.

My best guess is it comes down to unions. Labour tends to oppose the private sector when it seeks to be involved in an area where the public sector equivalent is highly unionised. Because unions fund, support and even vote on policy and candidates for Labour. So Labour’s often major motivation is to get more members for unions.

Public prison officers and public school teachers tend to be unionised, so charter schools and private prisons are a threat to them, as it may result in fewer union members and hence less support from unions.

Crown lawyers are not particularly unionised, so there is no advantage to Labour in having prosecutions done solely by Crown Law Office. Hence their wildly inconsistent policies, which they dress up as principle.

So the next time Labour rails against private prisons, ask them why they don’t have a problem with private law firms prosecuting on behalf of the state – surely a function which is far more core than merely managing a prison under terms set down by the Department of Corrections.

The prison league table

March 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Tolley has released what is effectively a league table of our 17 prisons. It’s great to have such transparency on how our prisons are doing on various criteria.

All 17 prisons are now measured on their performance against each other in a range of areas including security, assaults, drug tests and rehabilitation programmes. They are then categorised in four performance grades, with the resulting tables released quarterly.

The information is used by Corrections and prison managers to identify and share successful practices, and focus on areas which need improvement.

The table has six prisons in the “exceeding” category, eight in “effective” and three “needs improvement”.

Mount Eden is the privately run prison. In the first half of 2012 it was in the “needs improvement” category, then in Q3 went to “effective” and in Q4 is “exceeding”.  It is the most improved prison.

Of course Labour and Greens are vowing to close it down.


Labour supports league tables

December 7th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davison at NZ Herald reports:

Taxpayer-funded prisons should be ranked in league tables so the performance of private and public prisons can be accurately compared, the Labour Party says.

I agree. If only Labour could be consistent on league tables.

Justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said it was difficult to understand how well private prison operator Serco was performing in its management of Mt Eden Correctional Facility because it was not known how it measured up against public prisons.

He felt the public needed a better measure of the company’s achievements, especially given the cost of the Government’s contract with Serco – $300 million over six years.

The Department of Corrections published the overall performance of its 19 prisons, but did not divide up the results by facility. Serco’s report cards were released every three months.

Mr Chauvel’s comments came after Corrections deputy chief executive Christine Stevenson revealed Serco had vastly improved its performance at the 966-bed Mt Eden prison in 2012.

She said the British-based Serco had a “tough” first year in charge of the facility, failing nearly half of its targets. But it had turned itself around in its second year and was meeting 95 per cent of its targets.

Excellent. It is good to see a prison operator have clear targets to meet, be reported against, and be held accountable for.

Mr Chauvel said this claim was hard to evaluate without knowing the percentage of targets that taxpayer-funded prisons were passing.

Ms Stevenson confirmed the department was collecting performance measures for individual prisons and would publish report cards next year.

Good – the comparison will be interesting.

But she warned the information could present a misleading picture.

“It’s quite a tricky thing to do. Our prisons … are all a bit different. You have Rolleston Prison, which is low-security, doesn’t have a fence, through to Auckland [Prison], which is maximum security.”

Which is not a reason to not have the individual data, but to possibly have categories within the table

The benefits of private prisons

November 14th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Humane initiatives in privately-run British prisons such as allowing inmates to spend entire days with their children have caught the eye of Corrections Minister Anne Tolley.

Mrs Tolley visited the Serco-managed Doncaster Prison in England last week to investigate programmes that could be implemented in New Zealand prisons.

Mrs Tolley was most interested in the Doncaster facility’s “Families First” scheme, which encouraged ongoing relationships between prisoners and their children.

“While we were there, there was a father who was bathing his 18-month-old daughter. She comes in once a week, and the two of them go through a normal parenting day. He has a day with his little one and he has done since she was born,” Mrs Tolley said.

“It’s to try and maintain those links, so they don’t miss the development of that child, so the child gets the benefit of a dad.”

This scheme was limited to 11 well-behaved fathers in the minimum-security jail.

So long as well targeted, seems a good idea.

To encourage new ideas the minister proposed exchanges in staff between Doncaster and Mt Eden. Many of the initiatives in Serco prisons were based on recommendations from frontline staff members.

Mrs Tolley said privately-run jails had the advantage of being able to trial new programmes without jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

A big advantage. Flexibility and innovation.

“I said to [staff], ‘So what’s your record of violence?’ And they looked at me as if I was nuts.”

Serco has introduced some of its initiatives at Mt Eden. It increased the number of visiting hours for inmates and attempted to make the visiting area as home-like as possible to facilitate family bonding and encourage rehabilitation.

Prison reform campaigner Roger Brooking said he had been concerned about Serco’s contracts in New Zealand because of their mixed record in the UK. But he was impressed by the culture change at Mt Eden prison, in particular the use of first names between staff and inmates.

The culture in our public prison service is not a very good one, if we are honest. In the past there has been torture, intimidation, theft, drugs and the like. Not to say all prison guards – by no means. But ask any insider, and they will admit the public prison service is not a healthy culture.

The private prison operators have an opportunity to set a different culture, which can actually improve outcomes. I despair that Labour and Greens are determined on ideological grounds to ban such initiatives regardless of how well they perform.

The Doncaster prison was the first British jail to be paid according to its results – it only received full payment if it reduced reoffending by 5 per cent.

This was similar to the proposed contract for the Wiri prison, Mrs Tolley said.

“If they don’t beat the results from the public sector by 10 per cent, there are financial penalties.”

Serco has had a patchy start in charge of Mt Eden prison but has improved its record on serious assaults and drug use in its second year.

Incentives tend to work.

Serco’s performance

July 6th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Private prison operator Serco has failed to meet half of its performance targets since taking over Auckland’s Mt Eden Prison.

A report card on Serco’s performance released today reveals three inmates were wrongly released, one escaped and there were three wrongful detentions.

The percentage of sentenced prisoners with an appropriate plan in place within required timeframes was only 28 per cent – two thirds lower than the 90 per cent target.

Of 37 targets Serco was to meet in the nine months to April half weren’t met.

While it is not good that Serco is only meeting half its targets, what is great is that a prison operator actually has targets that they are being held to. When is the last time you heard about the public prison service being subjected to the accountability of such targets.

And if Serco continue not to meet the targets, then they will be financially penalised and eventually can be sacked. This is how it should be.

The full set of performance targets and results is here.

Some of the “failures” are pretty minor such as only 99% instead of 100% of prisoners were seen by a health professional within four hours of arrving.

The KPIs look pretty good. Does anyone know if the prisons run by the Corrections Department have to meet the same KPIs?

New prisons for old

March 19th, 2012 at 9:12 am by David Farrar

Danya Levy at Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed old regional prisons are set to close and be replaced with a new privately-built prison at Wiri, in South Auckland.

The Government announced earlier this month that Serco, the private company managing Auckland’s Mt Eden prison, would also run the new 960-bed jail which would be built by Fletcher Construction.

Although the prison muster has been falling, the Government says it needs extra capacity in Auckland.

Serco is expected reduce reoffending by more than 10 per cent and will face financial penalties if it fails to meet the target.

Excellent incentives.

Labour’s justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said Wiri was expected to cost the taxpayer about $1 billion over 25 years but its “indirect” costs were becoming clear and were “disturbing”.

Normally politicians talk about a cost over three or four years to make a small number sound even bigger. Charles has gone even further and is talking about a 25 year figure.

“National seems to have made a decision that, rather than refurbish many regional state-owned institutions, it will simply close them. Prison closures will be a big blow to regional economies. Job losses will be significant.”

Heh, mourning the fact a prison is closing. I suspect the reality is that there are not enough local prisoners in Invercargill and New Plymouth to justify them keeping dedicated prisons. An interesting argument though that one should keep prisons going, even without enough prisoners, to keep jobs. It reminds me of the Yes Minister episode about the best hospital in Britain, which had no patients!

Private prison thinking

March 14th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Theunissen at NZ Herald reports:

Prisoners would get telephones, televisions and “electronic menu” systems in the cells of a private prison in south Auckland under plans being considered by the Department of Corrections.

British-based company Serco, which will manage the new 960-bed prison at Wiri, has introduced the technology in its prisons overseas and wants to do the same here.

The proposal includes introducing “custodial management system” screens to prison units – and in some cases to individual cells – so inmates could order meals, write shopping lists, add credit to phone accounts and see weekly timetables.

Serco said the introduction of in-cell telephones in its overseas prisons had resulted in significant improvements in prison security, including a drop in the number of prisoners trying to smuggle cellphones. …

Canterbury University Professor of Sociology and former Paremoremo Prison inmate Greg Newbold said introducing the technology was clearly a cost-cutting exercise.

“Those private prisons have to run at a profit and 80 per cent of the cost of running prisons is in manpower.

“If you can do the administrative things electronically, you reduce the need for staff on the floor and you can run a prison more efficiently and more cheaply.


Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said the in-cell technology could save prison officers hours of mundane paperwork.

“At the moment if the prisoner wants something they have to come up to an officer and request it, so introducing these screens would mean if they’re short on toilet paper or they need a new toothbrush etc they can just enter it in.”

“But they should use it in the right way – let’s not get crazy on it and turn these places into the Hilton.”

Good to see the Corrections Assn in favour of a potential benefit of having a private operator.

An excellent incentive

February 21st, 2012 at 12:37 pm by David Farrar

Newstalk ZB reports at NZ Herald:

The operator of Mt Eden prison has been fined $150,000 after a prisoner escaped.

The company, Serco, and the Corrections Department have carried out a review of security after notorious inmate Aaron Forden escaped from the prison in the early hours of October 10 last year.

The two groups say both operational security and the physical security of the building infrastructure have now been enhanced.

Department of Corrections Chief Executive Ray Smith says a portion of the payment to Serco for the management of Mount Eden prison is performance-related.

He says it’s appropriate to levy a financial penalty for the escape.

Either the prison operators will ensure there are fewer escapes, or they will end up running the prison at a loss. Incentives tend to work, and I suspect we will see their overall escape record compare favourably over the medium term to the public prisons.

When a prisoner escapes from a public prison, is anyone held accountable? Does anyone lose their job? Is anyone fined? Is there an incentive to invest money to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Hat Tip: Whale Oil

Greens against fewer prison escapes

October 15th, 2011 at 8:41 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Green Party corrections spokesman David Clendon said the changes were unacceptable.

“A private manager can be fined if they allow escapes. In that context they are going to be very risk averse and use the high classification rather than the lower one.”

Oh dear because there will be incentives to have fewer escapes, then we may have fewer escapes because the prison managers will be more risk averse.

How awful!


August 10th, 2011 at 10:16 am by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Auckland’s Mt Eden prison operator Serco has been accused of bribing inmates with bigger helpings of food and televisions in their cells to encourage them to behave.

The prison officers’ union, the Corrections Association, said that in addition to larger meals, Serco served dessert every night, unheard of in the State prison system, Radio New Zealand reported.

To me this shows the private operator has the flexibility we want a prison operator to have.

UPDATE: I am informed that the “dessert” served up is a piece of fruit. I’m also informed state prisons serve fruit also, so this is a union beatup story.

Solomon on Private Prisons

June 6th, 2010 at 1:54 pm by David Farrar

Ngai Tahu Chairman Mark Solomon was interviewed today on Q+A. The part I want to emphasise is this:

MARK I like the concept, I like the concept of the way that they deal with the cultural aspects within a prison system. For example one of the maximum security prisons we visited in Australia had a rather large Aboriginal population. The reality the management were Scots, and Australians and English people, and I simply asked them well how do you deal with the cultural needs of the people that you’re not connected to, and their answer was quite excellent from my point of view – we don’t, we have gone into a relationship with the Aboriginal tribes in the region and they work with us to set the cultural aspects within the prisons system. But what we found when we went through the prison was – I mean I’ve been to Paremoremo, I’ve been to Paparoa, I’ve had a look through the New Zealand prisons. The atmosphere between the two prisons was absolutely outstanding, the difference between the Australian model under the private prisons, to what we have here. For example, every prisoner in the Port Prince prison has three opportunities every day, they’re either in a hospital bed, they’re at a work station, or they’re in education. That’s their choices. We went into what’s known as the youth wing, 18 to 29 year olds, they run companies within the prison.

GUYON So it’s a lot more innovative than in the New Zealand system?

MARK Lot more innovative, they’re educated in drive, they’re upskilling, and the latest thing I heard from GE4S that they were petitioning the Australian government to introduce trade training, and their view is what is the point of having a prisoner behind bars five to 15 years, and at the end of it you chuck him back out on the street with no qualifications, no skills, within a month he’s back in prison. You’ve got to look at how do you address the recidivism.

Just remember, this is what Labour and the Greens have fought tooth and nail against.

And Solomon say the praise isn’t commercially motivated:

MARK Myself and three other Iwi leaders were invited by TPK to meet with some of the companies that are coming into the company to potentially bid for private prisons. I will be up front, my interest wasn’t so much in having an equity share in the prison. I wanted to know how these companies that are offshore companies would deal with the cultural aspects when they came into New Zealand. So we met with GE4S.

GUYON A Melbourne based company.

MARK And Serco, yes the other Australian based company. We were blown away in the way that they deal with their prisoners.

GUYON You were impressed?

MARK We’re completely impressed.

For all their talk about the need for better rehabilitation in prisons, Labour and the Greens put narrow ideology ahead of something that could make a real difference.

Yay another private prison

May 11th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland jail is to be handed over to private management under legislation passed last year.

The tender process for the handover of the joint Mt Eden-Auckland Central Remand Prison will begin within a month, with a decision early next year. A formal handover is pencilled in for August 2011.


Labour’s corrections spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said the party would reverse privatisation of any prisons.

“If Labour were elected government, it would be our intention to revert back to Crown management of prisons.

There is no way there is the same level of accountability or parliamentary inquiry, as they have now with a government agency.

“Corrections is the core responsibility of the state.”

This is ideological nonsense.

What Collins is doing in Corrections is almost identical to what we already have for prosecutions. Almost all prosecutions are managed by private law firms, with Crown Law setting overall policy and standards.

Is Labour proposing to nationalise prosecutions and remove crown prosecution warrants from the dozen or so law firms that have them?

Prosecutions can be deemed just as much a core responsibility as corrections. But what counts is that the Crown sets policy and standards in the area – they do not need to provide the service.

Auckland Central Remand Prison was privately run by the Australian GEO Group from 1999 to 2005, when the Labour Government refused to renew the contract.

Ms Collins has praised GEO for introducing new rehabilitation services and having fewer positive drug tests and an excellent safety record – only one suicide and three serious assaults in 2004 – but the Corrections Association has challenged this.

This is the key. You provide financial incentives for not allowing drug use by prisoners, having improved safety and most of all for fewer escapes. Incentives matter, and they work.

Private Prisons to return

April 15th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Delighted to see the new Wiri prison will be openly tendered. Not only may it cost less, but more importantly it provides opportunities to have a lower escape rate, and a higher rehabilitation rate.

Now Labour have said:

Locking people up in jails is a job for the state, not for private businesses whose prime motivation will inevitably be to make money out of a PPP venture, says Labour Law and Order spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove.

As usual, they put ideology ahead of any potential gains. But let’s rewrite their press release to show how stupid their statement is:

Prosecuting criminals is a job for the state, not for private businesses whose prime motivation will inevitably be to make money out of prosecutions, says Labour Law and Order spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove.

Prosecutions are just as much a core part of the criminal justice system, as are prisons. And we already have what is effectively PPPs in the crown law system.

The Crown Law office sets policies and standards for prosecutions, but contracts private law firms to do most of the prosecutions. Those private law firms make money out this arrangement.So why is Labour not calling for prosecutions to be nationalised?

Labour’s great weakness is their inability to put aside ideology to do what is best.

Some may accuse National of doing the same, but I can point to a specific counter in the law & order field.

Criminal defence work is also effectively privatised at present. It is done by private lawyers and law firms. However National is supporting and expanding the Crown’s Public Defender Service, as it has found in this case it can produce better outcomes. This is effectively nationalising a small part of something that was previously done purely by the private sector.

Some signs of hope within Labour

August 16th, 2009 at 10:20 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

“We’d only go down the private route if we thought we were going to get a more cost-effective service,” Mr English said. “So over the next 12 months or so we’ll see whether the publicly funded and run prisons can give us better management of the prisons and less escapes, if the other arrangements look like they will give us a worse service then we won’t go with them.”

Labour’s law and order spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the jury was still out on whether private prisons offered maximum value for taxpayers’ money.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this seems a less hostile tone to the private sector that usual for Labour. Cosgrove has just said the jury is out, rather than state an ideological hatred opposition to having the private sector involved. I’m hoping this is deliberate and this is progress.

Nandor on private prisons

March 26th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Nandor Tanczos blogs:

I think the best run prison the country has seen was the Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) when it was run by Australasian Correctional Management (now Geotech) – a private prison operator. OK, it was a brand new (Government built) facility. It didn’t take sentenced prisoners, so the dynamics were quite different, and its contractual obligations were different from those of public prisons.

What impressed me, though, was the needs assessments on new inmates, at a time when the infamous Integrated Offender Management System was barely functioning in the public system. What also impressed was the leadership of its outstanding General Manager Dom Karauria.

As an aside it is interesting that a number of experienced Maori managers have done well with Australian private prison operators. They don’t seem to face the same institutional barriers, or maybe Australian prison companies just value a Maori perspective.

And Labour legislated to make this illegal and remove such good management.

Nandor goes on to put forward his preferred option:

It recommended small scale habilitation centres, with intensive, often confrontational, therapy to address the causes of offending. Sentenced prisoners would be assessed for suitability and people not suitable, or trying to play the system, would stay in a general prison.

The Public Prison Service is not well suited to running these kinds of operations. Neither is the multinational prison industry. They are both better at running sausage factories. Habilitation centres are suited to relatively small commercial and community operations, and they offer enormous scope for effective and innovative programs. They allow Tangata Whenua, Pasific Island or other groups to address particular cultural or religious needs. The tragedy of the public vs private prison debate is that this kind of solution gets lost in the fray.

I don’t see what Nandor urges as incompatible with what National is doing. It is all about choice, and choosing the best operator for each sort of prison. Sometimes that may be Dept of Corrections. Sometimes it may be an international player with experience in the area, and sometimes it might be a small local provider.

Debate on Privately Managed Prisons

March 10th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Some interesting quotes in this Herald story:

Unions representing prison wardens have vowed to fight Government plans to let private companies manage some existing jails.

The Corrections Association says prison officers started on just $18,000 a year the last time prison management was privatised – at the Auckland Central Remand Prison for the first five years after it opened in 2000.

No surprise the union is against. The minimum wage is now $25,000 so I guess they’ll be on at least that. But the part that interest me is this:

But criminologist Greg Newbold, who has visited private prisons in Australia and the United States as well as the Auckland remand prison when it was privatised, said privatisation worked.

“The private prisons have an atmosphere of vibrancy and enthusiasm which I have never seen in a publicly run prison,” he said.

Strong words.

“The reason they are better is that there are powerful performance incentives built into a good contract to ensure that the private prison will perform according to the requirements of the contract.”

Incentives do matter. We ignore this at our peril.

He confirmed that floor staff at the Auckland remand prison were paid less than their counterparts in public prisons when the remand jail was run by Australasian Correctional Management, a US-owned company that is now called the GEO Group (Global Expertise in Outsourcing).

“What tends to happen is that they pay good money for top operators. They tend to pay less money for the people on the floor, the unskilled people who just open and shut doors,” he said.

“If they show commitment and intelligence and ability, they can rapidly be promoted, which isn’t the case in the public system.”

No wonder they do well. Starting salary is not as important for many, as what salary they can rise to if they perform well.

In his book The Problem of Prisons, Dr Newbold said the Australian company running the Auckland remand prison was fined $50,000 for every escape under its contract, and as a result had only one escape in the five years it ran the jail.

“In 2004, for example, filled to maximum capacity with 360 inmates, the prison had one suicide and only three serious assaults – a low level of serious incidents for an institution of this type,” he wrote. “Only 5.5 per cent of inmates returned positive drug tests, compared with over 20 per cent in the public sector.”

No wonder Labour closed it down. What would be interesting is to find out what the violence and drug testing rate now is in that prison?