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Tapu Misa on private prisons

Written By: - Date published: 12:14 pm, March 17th, 2009 - 32 comments
Categories: crime - Tags: ,

From Tapu Misa’s latest column:

National thinks that… [t]hrough the magic of “competition” we’ll get a first rate penal system, and private providers will make a profit without our having to spend any more money.

Given the lack of strong evidence for this proposition, this seems to be based squarely on faith and ideology.

But didn’t Crosby Textor tell us that John Key was all about “what works”? Oops.

32 comments on “Tapu Misa on private prisons ”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    That is a reasonable interpretation of Tapu Misa’s column if you overlook that Tapu Misa seems to ignore that there is little evidence that the current corrections system is performing adequately.

    There does seem to be quite compelling evidence in my view that private management of some prisons will allow the Corrections Department to hold corrections’ providers to levels of accountability that simply haven’t been achieved within the public corrections system over the last six years.

    I don’t know what Crosby Textor advised us because they haven’t been advising me. What I do know is that the current prison system isn’t working. There are several examples of private prison management in New Zealand and Australia providing markedly better corrections outcomes than the publicly-owned model and being able to hold private prison management to much higher levels of accountability for performance.

    • Ari 1.1

      I agree that the current corrections system has problems, (hell, I’m not sure a prison system is something that anyone can be incredibly satisfied with overall) but that is not evidence that privatisation or even more private partners for corrections would be useful at all, let alone an improvement.

      What sort of compelling evidence do you have, Tim? Any specifics? And does your evidence establish causation as well as correlation? 🙂

      • Rex Widerstrom 1.1.1

        I’m not sure about Tim but I’ve presented evidence here before.

        My response to the idea was perfectly encapsulated by senzafine on the same thread:

        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.

        Precisely. It all comes down to the parameters used to choose the successful operator, the performance measures imposed upon them, the monitoring of those measures and the willingness to impose sanctions for poor performance. And, if necessary, to pull the contract as they did in Western Australia.

        There’s a reason there’s a waiting list to transfer out of every state-run prison* in WA into the privately run one, and it has nothing to do with ideology.

        * Except the much lower-security prison farms.

  2. Ianmac 2

    Tim: Are the “much higher levels of accountability for performance,” about financial success or effectiveness of operation especially with the tough customers?

    • Tim Ellis 2.1

      Ianmac, that’s an interesting question. I doubt that there’s much scope for privatising the management of maximum security prisons, but in medium-security and remand prisons, there is the scope with private management to hold private management to account, especially with regards to prison escapes, rehabilitation rates, consultation with relevant communities, and providing a drug-free environment.

      You can add all sorts of accountability standards into private prison contracts that the State has simply failed to do with public prison management.

      The main purpose of private management of prisons shouldn’t be cheaper outcomes, but better quality corrections outcomes and greater community safety.

      • BLiP 2.1.1

        The main purpose of private prisons is profit. Introducing the profit motive in prisons will result in slavery. Yippeee. Thanks National.

        http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8289

        http://home.iae.nl/users/lightnet/creator/prison.htm

        http://www.afn.org/~govern/Prisons.html

      • Quoth the Raven 2.1.2

        Tim – I recommend you read this post by I/S: No accountability for National’s private prisons .
        I think we’ll have less accountability with private prisons not more.

        • Rex Widerstrom 2.1.2.1

          I/S’s commentary was reposted by The Standard this weekend and I posted a comment putting several points to him hoping to get a response but the thread then died.

          I/S, are you out there?

          • Quoth the Raven 2.1.2.1.1

            Rex – I must have missed it. Anyway, you raise some good points, but the assertion that Tim is making is that there will be greater accountability under a private system. You don’t show in your comment how we’ll get that with National’s bill. I don’t think there will be greater accountability. I think there will be less. Do you actually think that under National’s bill as it is there will be greater accountability?

          • Rex Widerstrom 2.1.2.1.2

            QtR: No, I don’t think the Bill as drafted will produce adequate accountability. To be honest it goes much further than I’d dared hope, but the points I/S raises are all valid – what I was doing was positing ways they could easily be dealt with by amendments and/or inclusions in any eventual contract.

            Since it seems private prisons will go ahead regardless I see this as an opportunity to advocate for a model which is capable of doing a great deal of good. The alternative is to stand in opposition to the concept (as opposed to its execution) and allow the model adopted to be one that suits Garrett, McVicar et al.

          • Tim Ellis 2.1.2.1.3

            QtR, those are good points but I really do think there’s a gaping hole in IS’ argument. He only refers to the legislative requirements for accountability as contained in the Bill. Legislative requirements have very little to do with contractual arrangements between the private prison operator and the Corrections Department. Nor should they be: one of the features of private prison management is that you can provide different solutions for different problems. The accountability and performance measurements you have for a medium-security prison in Northland (recidivism rates, assaults on prisoners, rehabilitation and training rates, consultation with iwi, drug-free environment) etc might be very different from the requirements of a remand prison in Invercargill, for example. You don’t define those accountability and performance measures in legislation.

            I also don’t get what IS is on about with regards to the OIA. In my previous job with a consulting firm where we did a lot of work for government departments there was no legislative requirement that the work we did was subject to the OIA. There were certainly contractual requirements for this however.

  3. the sprout 3

    good interviews this morning on RNZ Nine to Noon on problems encountered with private prisons in Australia:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/ntn/2009/03/17/private_prisons

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/ntn/2009/03/17/private_prisons_2

    “What I do know is that the current prison system isn’t working”

    Tim, no prison systems work particularly well as long as they’re based on coersion and degradation. At least with State operation the State is required to take more direct responsibility for what goes on inside them.

  4. DeeDub 4

    C’mon you doubters?!

    You must know that corruption and bribery doesn’t occur in the world of private business?

    Outcomes are always better if someone is being enriched, don’t you know.

    Just look around.

  5. I take a, hopefully, rational look at the issue of the trade-offs between public and private prisons here. I conclude “So there is a case to be made for private prisons, but it may not be as strong as for other services currently provided by the government, and it is at its weakest for the case of maximum security prisons.’

    • Rex Widerstrom 5.1

      That’s an excellent article Paul. I wonder though to what degree the paper you cite is applicable to NZ conditions? For instance they say, with reference to maximum security institutions:

      …the prevention of violence by prisoners against guards and other prisoners is a crucial goal… In many cases, the principal strategy for preventing such violence is the threat of the use of force by the guards.

      I don’t think the threat of the use of force by guards – at least not in the Amercian context, where this can escalate up to rubber and even lead bullets – is nearly as great a factor in maintaining order in NZ prisons.

      And while gangs are a factor in NZ prisons it’s not to the same extent as in the US, where the friction between white supremacists, African American and Latino gangs is virtually constant and where conditions are much less humane, leading to greater resentment and thus violence.

      So there’s many institutional and cultural factors that render that analysis far less germane when overlaid on the NZ situation, wouldn’t you agree?

      • Paul Walker 5.1.1

        The force factor may be less here than in the US but force is still an issue. Insofar as it is less of a factor then contracting out is more likely to work. Importantly, however, the basic incomplete contracts theory is as applicable here as for the US.

    • BLiP 5.2

      The introduction of the document you use to base your opinion on states, in part:

      As a general rule, government employees provide most services paid for with tax revenues, such as the police, the military, operation of prisons, fire departments and schools, collection of garbage and so on.

      This is a particularly nasty example of the hideous and inhumane invasion of society by those driven by greed. So far as the authors you quote are concerned, the provision of prisons can be argued using the same logic as contracting out the disposal of garbage.

      The document goes on to say that the arguments against privatisation are concerned only with cost and quality, completely ignoring the wider argument that it is the task of the state, and the state alone, to hold captive its citizens and that introducing the profit motive in this responsibility is relegating the value of human beings to that of widgets.

      Sick sick sick. I have no doubt this is just the sort of thinking that is driving the current National government. No wonder the US model has resulted in the creation of slave labour camps. I despair for the future.

  6. Chess Player 6

    Just another mess for the new Govt to clean up…..

    I get the distinct impression reading this blog that many of you would prefer the current shambles to continue, rather than even tolerate the remotest chance of privatisation being part of the solution.

    Just remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always gotten…

  7. gingercrush 7

    Isn’t a position where the idea you can’t have profit motives in prisons itself an ideology? Indeed when Labour closed down the remand prison, surely that was nothing but ideological. Particularly, since that prison had been a real success.

    I think she does have a point. In that some on the right do think that you can merely make prisons private and they will be better. Which is itself blind. But since National isn’t just going to tap their fingers and make all prisons private and is doing it on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think they can be accused of being blind.

  8. Ianmac 8

    Chessplayer: “I get the distinct impression reading this blog that many of you would prefer the current shambles to continue,”
    Um no. What I would like to see is transparency of just how well the Prison Service is run. There is a tendency to really hype up any misadventure to damn the whole system and some like to use “current Shambles” type language often enough so that it becomes “true.” I think that most prisons in NZ are well run. The absence of frequent serious trouble seems to support this…… until politicians get stuck in and blow up incidents for political gain.

    • BLiP 8.1

      Exactly! What is this “shambles” being referred to? Has anyone read the latest report on the Department of Corrections and, if so, can they point to the section which deals with the management of prisons?

      This whole privatisation of prisons has got the foul odour of Crosby/Textor all over it. That and the stench of National Party lies, greed and haste to start shoveling cash out of the country and into the coffers of the multinationals.

      • higherstandard 8.1.1

        Are you deliberately trying to act the idiot or does it come naturally ?

        The report entitled “Department of Corrections: Managing Offenders on Parole” was not surprisingly about managing offenders on parole.

        For an outsiders view of the NZ prison system read this little gem.

        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10561455

        • Ianmac 8.1.1.1

          Thankyou higherstandard: I read it but the language of words like “putrid” are not the words of assesment. They are words used to push a case for better working conditions, better pay etc. They really are in line with political spin but for the opposite intent. (That is not to say that things could not be better, but the National/Act talk is to make them nastier places, to teach them a lesson. The difficulties arising from this???)

  9. BLiP 9

    Oh, right – you form your opinions based on the tripe served by the New Zealand Fox News Herald. That would be the same report that Collins said:

    . . she refutes the suggestion that all three facilities have serious security shortcomings, saying there would be more escapes if that were the case.

    Wow! What a wonderful case for abdicating state responsibility and preparing to start shovelling cash out the door.

  10. rave 10

    Gingercrunch

    Of course its an ideology to say the state alone should be responsible for public order.

    Its not a social democratic ideology however but the capitalist ideology itself that likes us to think that the state is not the bosses state and indeed class neutral a sort of godlike referee beyond partisanship.

    Nation in its narrow partnership greed for more profits for its US multinational mates however is about to blow the cover of the state. Now bosses can make profits from jailing people, so it becomes obvious that’s why they lock them up, 3 strikes for more profits!

    I say bring it on, the more private jails the better, the more National appointees to SOEs etc the better, why not partisan judges, the old USofA has it. What this does it make it perfectly clear that the judicial system is a means of < a href’=’http://redrave.blogspot.com/2009/03/privatising-repression.html’ /a>. Bring it on!

    • gingercrush 10.1

      You write rather eloquently rave. BTW who is a worker. And in your world where workers control things, what happens to management and other such people?

      • BLiP 10.1.1

        They are remunerated according to how they are rated by the staff the manage, and receive a share of the enterprises’ overall profits according to their contribution to hands-on production. A good manager will do well.

        • RedLogix 10.1.1.1

          A good company employs good people, who know a good potential manager/leader among their own ranks when they see one. If more organisations used peer review to select people for promotion they would get some huge benefits.

          Here is an example of a Danish company that genuinely transformed it’s internal culture several decades ago, from rigid inflexible hierarchy to a relatively flat structure:

          At Oticon, we treat managerial tasks in much the same way as any other type of assignment. Our organisation is relatively flat with a culture based on the philosophy that an individual’s point of view is more important than his or her title. With independent, responsible employees and colleagues, managerial tasks are performed at ground level. Mutual respect develops automatically because most of our managers started at the same place as everyone else.

          As a result Oticon went from an almost failed company to the undisputed world leader in hearing aid technology. About 15 years ago Kim Hill had a fantastic interview with the CEO responsible for the change and I’ve never forgotten how inspirational it was.

  11. RedLogix 11

    Our prisons are funded and run rather like our facilities for the treatment of mental illness… a very poor third best. An excessively high imprisonment rate (among the top ten in the word) combined with a mean, punitive political and social climate mean that our prison system lacks the resources and respect to function well.

    Just two days ago we had a visit to my workplace from an ex-employee, a woman who had left to work at a major prison site locally. She’s paid a little better there, but her comments were downright hair-raising. Like being so short-staffed that she is routinely expected to conduct a muster ON HER OWN in a unit with 60 male prisoners… anyone of whom could jump her at any moment. (Anyone of you rightwing bozo’s got the guts to do that? Doubt it.)

    Prisons are hard, evil places. It takes a special breed of person to work effectively in them, and frankly these kind of people deserve a great deal more respect and support from the wider community than they presently get. Because all we are doing is setting them up to fail at present.

  12. Ben R 12

    A quick google search suggests that the evidence is mixed. Apparently Dr Greg Newbold has been on radio indicating he favours some privatisation. Sorry to quote off kiwiblog, but this seems relevant…

    “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.’

  13. BLiP 13

    That experiment in the state’s abdicatiion of its responsibility to society was a loss leader. Also, the logic applied in the KB dribble is sloppy – just because there was a fine system for escapes doesn’t necessarily mean that is the reason there was an escape. Also, who was responsible for gathering the statistics? The last thing you would want to do is take Farrar at face value.

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