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Sold out

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, February 16th, 2009 - 26 comments
Categories: crime, maori party, national/act government, privatisation - Tags: ,

According to the Dom Post Judith Collins is preparing legislation to reintroduce private prisons into New Zealand’s corrections system.

The arguments against privatisation are manifold and many of them have been covered at The Standard before. Bottom line for me is that the right to take an individual citzen’s liberty comes from a compact between a nation’s government and its citizenry. To introduce the profit motive into this delicate agreement is a subversion of democracy.

That said there will be plenty of people that will disagree with me. I wouldn’t have thought Pita Sharples would be one of them, but to quote the Dom:

She [Collins] said Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who is Associate Corrections Minister, supported allowing private contracts.

To be fair Sharples’ office has said they have “no policy” on the matter (which is nothing new for the Maori Party but surprising here considering Sharples has been a strong prison reform advocate in the past) but there is a real sense of who the boss is in this relationship.

I think the Maori Party will compromise on private prisons and Maori (who make up a massively disproportionate percentage of inmates) will suffer as a result.

I also think that to soften the blow the first private prison will be run by iwi and will be labeled as “bringing justice back to the community”. It won’t be.

26 comments on “Sold out ”

  1. John Dalley 1

    Seeing the two Judges in the US have just been exposed for sending youth prisoners to private prisons and lining their pockets at the same time, why would you want private prisons in NZ.

  2. cha 2

    On January 26th. two Pennsylvania judges were charged with taking $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care

  3. Joe Blogger 3

    Didn’t the last National Government have privately run prisons? Can somebody advise what the situation was like then?

  4. cha 4

    Corrections Corporation of America announced its financial results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2008.

  5. Joe Blogger. The only private faciltiy was the Auckland remand prison, approved by National it was actually opened early in Labour’s time in power (2000), and Labour brought it into public control in 2005. As a brand-new facility and only a remand facility it didn’t have some of the problems that proper prisons with older buildings have – many make a leap from that to thinking that it was better because it was private, not so.

  6. Quoth the Raven 6

    What should also be worrying too is the use of prison labour and its effects on the genuine labour market – as I/S points out. Workers are already losing their jobs due to this and it will put downward pressure on wages. Undoubtedly none of this would worry the elitist Sharples.

  7. Pascal's bookie 7

    kinda related,

    Blackwater has rebranded itself.
    It is now ‘xe’.
    Presumably they want something tricksier for prosecuters to pronounce.

    This makes me a little sad. There was something refreshingly honest and poetic about their old stylz. Now they are just something out of a trying-too-hard corporate dystopia novel.

    xe. ffs.

  8. Redbaiter 8

    “Seeing the two Judges in the US have just been exposed for sending youth prisoners to private prisons and lining their pockets at the same time, why would you want private prisons in NZ.”

    Oh yeah, two judges out of how many? ..and they were caught and punished. One thing about the c*mm*es, rational as all fuck.

    Privately run prisons are only objected to by the left on ideological grounds, not rational grounds, although they’ll never admit it, and they will always come up with the kind of pathetic shit that Dilley Dalley does to try and conceal that fact.

    Wake up c*mm*es- – your best angle of attack on this is the racist angle. Mainstream NZ does not want prisons run by so called maori or any race based group, and if National is not awake to this fact, then they’re as useless as tits on a bull.

  9. vto 9

    While generally being in favour of removing govt from where they shouldn’t be, one of govt’s core functions is law and order and justice. That cannot be denied (I think). As such, first up it doesn;t seem to make sense. What’s that old saying about sticking to your knitting?

    All the time and effort that will be expended on this could no doubt be put to better use improving the current service.

    Or concentrating on areas that are more obviously suited to govt removal – such as electoral law!

  10. Graeme 10

    I understood some Maori were quite big fans of the last privately run prison in New Zealand – believing it did a better job that state prisons. There was disappointment within some Maori communities at the 2005 change.

  11. senzafine 11

    I struggle to believe that prisons could be too much more corrupt than they are now.

    Maybe even a decent private organisation might be able to clean up what is fundamentally a corrupt and broken prison system.

  12. Redbaiter. Sharples wants prisons run by iwi, that’s why he and other Maori supported the first experiment at private prisons. So, you’ll be opposing proviate prisons if they are run by iwi? Prefer almost certianly foreign-owned companies just out to make as big a profit as possible in charge of the secure detention, and safety, of our criminals?

  13. Rex Widerstrom 13

    Bugger, this would come up on a day when I’m frantically busy…

    Two quick points…

    First, the right to take a citizen’s liberty should always rest with the state. But once it’s been taken then the argument about who has charge of him or her is one of practicality, not principle. It’s somewhat disingenuous to raise the issue in the terms of this post as though we’re talking private police not private prison guards.

    Second, there and many appalling private prison operators who (I would hope!) have no place in New Zealand. Fortunately their abuses are so well known they’re easily identified and weeded out of the tender process – or should be by any government not fixated purely on the bottom line.

    Give a private prison to one of the minority of operators who achieve excellent results, particularly in rehabilitation, and you’ll potentially achieve better outcomes than from state run prisons, which tend to be fiefdoms of the Superintendent and laws unto themselves.

    Tie the private operators’ incomes to outcomes we can all agree on, like reduced recidivism of released offenders (and throw in a few more controversial ones, like decent education and food) and you have the potential to achieve things which are beyond the moribund, public service mentality of the Corrections Department hierarchy.

    Given the personalities in play (Collins, Garrett, and their court jester McVicar) there is, of course, the danger that the wrong performance indicators are targeted and the whole thing turns to soup.

    But my point is that in principle, private prisons can be better than, the same as, or worse than their state equivalents – and there are examples of all three situations in operation as we debate this, so we have plenty of models. It’s all about how you introduce them. Let’s hope National doesn’t waste the opportunity in the name of appeasing the utu wing.

    Or, briefer still: What senzafine said.

  14. PaulL 14

    Let me get this straight. We did it before, the results were generally good, but they shouldn’t be looked at because it wasn’t quite the same thing.

    Would you at least accept that it wasn’t bad? And that it is legitimate to try? What exactly is going to go wrong that isn’t either already going wrong with our corrections system, or that we wouldn’t have seen go wrong somewhere else in the world (we aren’t the only country to have privately administered prisons you know).

    It is going to be like the probationary employment legislation. You guys were all against it (probably still are) and scare mongered about how the world would end. Because apparently NZ employers are far more unethical than the employers in all those countries that already had legislation like this on the books (something like 90% of the OECD wasn’t it?)

    I understand that you object to it philosophically. But National did win the election, and it is legitimate to give it a go on one or two prisons to see how it works out. And describing the Maori Party in such patronising terms as “here is a real sense of who the boss is in this relationship” is a bit rude. The only reason you describe it that way is that you assume, with no evidence, that the Maori Party oppose privately run prisons.

    Is there no room in your thought process that perhaps Pita Sharples looked at the evidence and decided it was worth a go? That perhaps experience from offshore is that prisoners in privately run prisons get a better go – the private operators are better incented to keep the prisoners happy and thereby reduce their costs?

  15. Lew 15

    SP, you (wrongly) assume RB represents or is anything like remotely a part of `mainstream NZ’.


  16. PaulL. we only need to look to the international experience to see that private prisons are a very bad thing. In the US, assaults on guards are 49% higher and on prisoners 65% higher than in public prisons http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/181249.pdf,and there aren’t any real cost savings, private prisons just cherry pick the cheaper prisoners and leave the public ones to carry the ost of the expensive ones (like private health) http://www.policymattersohio.org/pdf/prisexecsum.pdf. Many US state are now cutting private prison contracts.

    Why would we experiment when we can already see the bad results of other experimenting?

    All the Central Remand Prison showed was that a new prison is better than an old one. It still is a better prison now that it is run publicly.

  17. Redbaiter 17

    What happens to non-maori in prisons run by so called “maori”? (really just another power group intent on sucking as much as they can from the public purse under all kinds of false pretenses)

    [good question Reddy. Now, given some group has to control prisons, wouldn’t it be best that it is the group elected and accountable to us all, rather than some group responsible to an iwi elite or a small group of shareholders who are only interested in their profits? SP]

  18. Matthew Pilott 18

    What concerns me far more than this is if the deliverables for a private prison are financial, and if any aspect of the contract and management are kept confidential (i.e. govt and wacken-smack’em-hut are the only ones who know what the contract is worth, what the deliverables are and so on) on ‘commercial sensitivity’ grounds.

    If anyone wants a PPP they must realise that they’re receiving public funds and they can’t expect any contract confidentiality. Somehow I doubt National would care about this aspect, but they may surprise and prove me wrong.

  19. Quoth the Raven 19

    May I point out that a privately run prison doesn’t necessarily have to be a corporate run prison. I think it shows how bereft of imagination and intelligence the right is that whenever someone says private they say corporate. I for one would support a prison run by Iwi as “bringing justice back to the community’ but if that entails a corporate model, and with the neo-tribalists like Sharples it probably would, than I can’t support that.

  20. PaulL 20

    I think it shows how bereft of imagination and intelligence the left is that they assumed that private meant corporate. And that they would be prepared to rule out a deal that was cheaper for the public and better for prisoners purely on the basis of ideology.

    I was watching the Matrix the other day, and getting annoyed at the barely concealed religious nature of things. You know, the guy called Neo getting crucified etc etc. And the whole word “neo” – I dunno, it became a swear word somewhere along the way, when it just means “new”. The new-tribalists like Sharples. Was that an insult? What the hell does it mean anyway? One day you love collectivism (and what is a tribe but a collective), the next day it is all evil – so presumably you prefer the alternative of democratically elected government….oh, that’s right, you don’t like that so much either at the moment.

    Matthew Pilot: do you have to create a straw man of a secret contract so that you can dislike private prisons? Or could you dislike them just as much without that straw man? Seems to me plenty here just see profits as being the problem – anything that makes a profit must be bad. Especially if you made a profit running an essential service. Like, for example, selling food. Or electricity.

  21. Quoth the Raven 21

    PaulL – The new-tribalists like Sharples. Was that an insult? What the hell does it mean anyway? You can read about neo-tribalism here: The Rise and Rise of the Neotribal Elite. A few points from it:

    This means that there is no continuity between the traditional tribe and the contemporary tribe. Today’s iwi are not the same social structure as the traditional tribe. They are economic corporations controlled by an emergent capitalist elite.

    By becoming the owners of capitalisable property the tribes became economic corporations. Like all corporations in the capitalist global economy a corporation’s resources are not simply land, beaches, foreshore, ideas, airwaves and so on. Its resources are capitalised land, capitalised waters, capitalised ideas and the commodities produced from that capital.

    A pre-colonial ‘aristocratic’ elite has, within two decades, re-positioned itself as a contemporary elite, as the owners (or at the very least the controllers) of capitalised resources originally claimed as reparations for historical injustices to all Maori.

    One day you love collectivism (and what is a tribe but a collective), the next day it is all evil – so presumably you prefer the alternative of democratically elected government .oh, that’s right, you don’t like that so much either at the moment.

    When have I ever criticised collectivism? I was arguing for worker cooperatives a few threads ago. Can you gleam from the points above that I don’t think that those specific tribes are very collective? Democratic government is not the antithesis of collectivism. Democracy is quite collective. You seem to be be an avid follower of my comments. I have been criticising representative democracy not democracy itself.

  22. Rex Widerstrom 22

    SP: As I’ve said, the appalling performance (by any measure) of many private prison operators is well known. Less well known is the performance of the good ones… to levels which exceed those of state run prisons. Not that that’s exactly an insurmountable target.

    For instance have a look at the independent, government-funded, Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services’ report on privately run Acacia Prison [805kb pdf] in Western Australia. Some quotes from the Overview for those who cant be bothered reading the whole thing:

    One of the attractions of private sector participation in prison management is that a poor performer can be replaced.

    …the Inspector had been concerned that the original operator of Acacia was not performing to a satisfactory level, and certainly not providing a new benchmark for the public sector prisons to try to match. The first inspection (March/April 2003) had revealed substantial shortcomings, and the ongoing series of liaison visits by Inspectorate staff had demonstrated that those shortcomings had not been
    adequately addressed…

    Shortly thereafter, it was confirmed by the Government that Acacia would indeed be open to new bidders. Serco was successful, and commenced managing Acacia in May 2006.

    The broad conclusion is that the change of operator has been a very positive move. The performance of the prison had improved in numerous tangible ways. Indeed, as was stated at the Exit Debrief, Acacia was on the cusp of becoming a very good prison.

    …the new operator had been trying to make some quite radical changes before the supporting management processes and resource infrastructure were yet robust enough to support them. This was pointed out at the Exit Debrief (early December 2007), and Serco immediately commenced to respond constructively…

    Yet this has been achieved whil saving the taxpayer a significant amount of money – between $8 million and $15 million p.a. depending on whose estimate you believe. While that shouldn’t be the primary driver for private prisons, it’s nice if you can do that and create a good prison.

    Crucial to the success of the Acacia model is a contract betwen government and provider that rewards the meeting of targets that have an immediate positive effect on the prisoners and a longer-term positive effect on the community when they’re released.

    The contract for Acacia runs to 116 pages and a further 280 pages of schedules. Money is withheld from Serco and paid only if the prison meets performance measures in relation to:
    – serious assaults
    – serious acts of self harm by prisoners
    – accurate completion of incident reports
    – the number of positive urinalysis tests
    – meeting agreed staffing levels
    – completing sentence planning reviews on time
    – delivering treatment programs on schedule
    – education and training targets
    – the management of social visits,
    – providing prisoners with structured activities for 30 hours per week
    – the proportion of Aboriginal prisoners in standard and enhanced accommodation.

    A further five percent of the total fee (up to a maximum of $250,000) is set aside for a separate payment to reflect ‘innovation’.

    On the other side of the ledger, the contract also provides specific penalties of $100,000 (plus a CPI increase) for:
    – any escape
    – loss of control
    – death in custody (other than from natural causes)

    A lesser amount of $20,000 applies to serious failures to report information and failures to comply with ‘Performance Improvement Requests’.

    As an advocate for better prisons the potential inherent in a properly managed PPP on prisons gives me the greatest hope of seeing an improvement, since a wise government can apply financial incentives and disincentives to ensure the private operator produces the outcomes the government wants. It’s a tool not available in state prisons where accountability is nominal at best, and certainly far more indirect than the size of the pay cheque.

    I’d hope, Steve, that you and others on the left would be, first and foremost, in favour of anything that improved the lives of prisoners and better protected society from recidivism, regardless of the means used to achieve it.

    Yet in your opposition to private prisons I see the mirror image of the “ideology is more important than outcomes” attitude which – ironically, also today – I’ve called right wingers on at Kiwiblog in relation to their support of “three strikes” legislation.

    [Oh geez, apologies all for the length of this comment].

  23. Redbaiter 23

    “wouldn’t it be best that it is the group elected and accountable to us all,”

    Well Mr. Pierson, maybe you can point out where there might be lack of accountability in the scenario outlined by the good Mr. Widerstrom above. I really can’t see any.

    Good post Rex.

  24. Rex Widerstrom 24

    A question…

    Over on Kiwiblog I asked Rodney Hide to justify his claim that 77 people would be alive today if the three strikes law had been enacted.

    He replied (and I have to say my hat’s off to any MP, let alone a Minister, who’ll come and talk directly to us plebs) and, inter alia, said:

    …at the time of the election there were 77 inmates in jail for murder who had already served three separate terms in jail for violent offences, i.e. strike offences as set out in ACT’s Three Strikes Bill.

    Other commenters then pointed out the Herald had said:

    Burton, who appeared in a wheelchair due to an amputated leg, is believed to be the first New Zealander to have been sentenced to jail twice for murder, although there have been others that have killed two or more people.

    Asked to clarify the previous offences of the 77, Rodney said:

    I don’t know. The information is the result of a long and tortuous Official Information Request by David Garrett and the only thing supplied were the raw statistics that I have quoted. Not the names of the offenders.

    So, does anyone out there have any reliable statistics on recidivist murderers in NZ? The 77 figure surprises me, and if it’s correct suggests a far, far deeper problem than I’d imagined existed.

  25. Matthew Pilott 25

    Rex – the three strikes applies to crimes that aren’t as severe as murder, I gather (rape, violent assault and similar). Those ’77’ might have committed lesser offences for their first 2, following up with a death in the third – that does seem to be a high number though, for a very specific combination.

    Rex also – did you see the contract between the government and the crown when Auckland Remand prison was privately run? I ask because I don’t think anyone did – one of many problems with farming out the core functions of the state to the private sector.

    I understand your view that the ends justify the means (outcome over ideology) – so lets consider that outcome. You’re taking it from the point of view that they will do well, and that that would be a good thing. As your Australian exampe shows, where there is success, inevitably, there is failure.

    What if they fail? If those criteria are not met, they lose money, but we’re in danger, prisoners have been failed by the system (if not outright abused) and a core element of the running of the state has been inadequately performed – all over money.

    I don’t think that withholding money from a private corporation is adequate recompense to the public for our society being more dangerous if/when a private company fails prisioners. Do you?

  26. Rex Widerstrom 26


    I suspect you’re right about the 77, but I’d like to see Rodney or Garrett lay out the details. Especially since, as I pointed out to him, the statisics for “violent” crime in NZ include threats of violence. By those standards, there’s more than a few blog commenters I can think of who are well past their third strike 😉

    No I didn’t see the contract (but then I didn’t specifically search it out) but it’s appalling no one seems to have. Didn’t anyone try an OIA? Some Parliamentary Questions? The contract I’ve quoted from above is available on the web with only small parts excised which relate to security initiatives. Not having it public suggests at best no decent performance monitoring and at worst a tacit approval of some very dodgy practices.

    I don’t think that withholding money from a private corporation is adequate recompense to the public for our society being more dangerous if/when a private company fails prisioners. Do you?

    Absolutely not. But in the event that something horrendous came to light – torture of prisoners, beatings by guards etc – then there’s provision for immediate intervention by the state, perhaps throwing the private operator out and taking over.

    And constant monitoring by the state, by independent inspectorates, by NGOs – like the Prison Reform Group or, in NZ, PARS – and by prisoners’ families ensures any abuses are quickly reported.

    Abuses can and have happened in state run prisons too. Mostly they’re what I’d call negligent abuses – failing to get external medical treatment for prisoners, messing around with visits by family members who in some cases have traveled hundreds of miles only to be told the prisoner’s visits have been cancelled for some minor disciplinary infraction, and so on.

    What I have invariably found is that a private prison, fearful of a hit to the wallet, will respond quickly and effectively to complaints about such things whereas a state run prison will simply filibuster.

    Ultimately, what best constrains correctional institutions is society’s level of tolerance. When society consists of braying rednecks then Sherrif Joe becomes a hero and his charges suffer.

    For so long as New Zealanders retain their humanity, no private prison operator (or public one for that matter) will stray too far. But if that humanity is abandoned, it seems to go forever… I mean can anyone imagine Sheriff Joe now being reined back in?

    Which is why, for me at least, this debate is more than just academic.

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