City News

Plan to privatise prisons labeled a “risk to democracy”

BY ANDREW BARCLAY

The NSW Government’s plan to privatise the state’s prisons is “completely mistaken” according to criminal justice experts and campaigners.

Coordinator for Justice Action Brett Collins told City Hub the government’s plan was a “complete farce” because privatisation wouldn’t solve the biggest problem facing NSW prisons — overcrowding.

Mr Collins said that there were political motivations behind the plan.

“It’s like changing the captain of the Titanic when it’s sinking,” he said.

“There are no benefits to prisoner outcomes from privatisation, only political benefits because it distances the government from failures of the system.”

Prisoner numbers in NSW have been labelled “out of control,” after rising from 9,927 inmates in 2013 to 12,191 in 2016.

A recent Auditor-General report also found the state’s prison system was operating at 112 per cent occupancy rate.

Prisons across NSW will have to prove they are able to meet “benchmarking and marketing testing” or risk being handed over to the private sector, under the plan announced last week by Corrections Minister David Elliot,

The NSW Government also announced it will allow a private operator to bid to run a medium-security jail in Windsor, on Sydney’s north-western outskirts.

Mr Elliott said competition between the public and private sectors would raise the standards of prisons in NSW.

“This reform will help deliver a prison system that accommodates more inmates, operates more efficiently, and has a greater focus on rehabilitation, without compromising safety and security,” he said.

The plan is part of the NSW government’s Better Prisons program, which aims to help “improve the standards and value for money provided by the state’s prison system”.

The Greens criticised the move as a serious risk to democracy in the state because it effectively incentivised corporations to jail more citizens.

Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said it also failed to address overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

“Large-scale private prisons are not the solution to chronic prison overcrowding, they are a failed US experiment that should not be adopted here,” he said in a statement.

“The problems in our gaols of assaults, security breaches and high levels of repeat offenders are caused by a prison system creaking at the seams from overcrowding and none of this will be solved by privatisation.”

But leading prison expert, Professor of Criminology Eileen Baldry told City Hub the government’s plan was “extremely problematic” because prisons alone can’t reduce the state’s recidivism rate.

“Unless the government puts more resources into community organisations to help prisoners once released, it is completely pointless,” she said.

The UNSW professor said there was no evidence in Australia recidivism rates in private prisons were better than those in government-run prisons.

“The notion that by just privatising alone you will solve the problems isn’t true,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean quality and efficiency will improve.”

Professor Baldry said the plan carried some “serious risks”.

“It takes one of the most important aspects of society and hands that responsibility to the private sector,” she said.

“I don’t think there is evidence doing this will improve prisoner outcomes.”

“What is needed is a different framework.”

The NSW prison population is expected to rise over the long-term unless measures are taken to reduce the demand for prison accommodation, according to a 2015 NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report.

The successful bidder will be announced in August.

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