With a minimum of publicity or questioning of the tendering process, the Kennett Govt has succeeded in implementing it's plans for the widespread privatisation of the Victorian prison system, which would result in private prisons holding around 80% of women prisoners and 45% of all prisoners in Victoria.
This has been allowed to occur in an information vacuum due to the Kennett Govt. initiated "commercial confidentiality" clause which makes it virtually impossible for concerning people or social/activist groups to access information about the privatisation proposals or the tendering process. That same clause has also been useful to other big business groups in keeping the majority of the people in ignorance of the facts surrounding other unpopular profit-driven projects such as the Crown Casino, Albert Park Grand Pix (Formula 1 cars), the City Link venture (freeways), electricity privatisation, and the list goes on.
And it has been interesting to note the frequency with which the corporations concerned have turned to the pro-big business judicial system to have writs issued against the activists who have seen fit to speak out against them. Which, coupled with the same corporations habit of sending threatening letters to these activists, would lead one to believe that they have reason to fear the result of the public gaining an awareness of the companies' background and history, as well as details of their current tenders.
These companies do indeed have histories that they would prefer to keep hidden. The companies concerned are Australian Correctional Management (ACM), Corrections Corporation of Australia (CCA) and Group 4 Remand Services Ltd.
Australian Correctional Management (ACM), which has the tender for the 600 bed mens prison at West Sale, is owned by the American Wackenhut corporation and is currenty running the Junee Correctional centre in NSW and the Arthur Gorrie remand and reception centre in Qld. Both of these prisons a have been plagued by problems. Since their commencement of operations, with Junee suffering from innumerable riots and disturbances. This prison has been staffed primarily by people with no experience as prison officers, with minimal training, and are employed under a lower rate of pay and worse working conditions than their state employed counterparts. There has been ongoing concern also about the lack of experience in some of the management personnel in this prison as a number of low ranking prison officers from the state run prison system with only one or two years experience in the field were poached by ACM to take up positions in Junee as assistant/deputy Governors which is a job normally performed by officers with 10 or more years experience in the prison service.
All of these circumstances have reacted very heavily on the inmates unfortunate enough to have been placed in this prison with a higher than average rate of internal violence and drug use, there have also been complaints about the considerable lack of educational and vocational programs within the prison. The worst aspect of this profit unduced disorder however is the number of deaths that have occurred in this supposedly medium security prison. Since April 1993, there have been 4 deaths in custody at Junee, one of them was a murder while 2 were suicides and one other death is still under investigation.
The Arthur Gorrie remand and reception centre is unfortunately also following ACM tradition in that it has been the source of a great many complaints regarding overcrowding and lack of services, and has has had 8 deaths in custody between Nov. 1992 and Sept. 1995, which is by far the worst death rate in any comparable size prison this decade.
If you want to get a really clear picture of what could happen in a privately run prison, then you only have to look at Wackenhut's American prisons where company officials are alleged to have misappropriated over $700,000 of funds in Texas, which were allocated by that state for drug rehabilitation programs. These funds were allegedly used on mobile phones and trips to Britain.
In Wackenhut's Lochart prison there are housed three private manufacturing companies. One of the companies, Lochart Technologies Inc., which produces circuit board assemblies, had a completely new factory assembly facility built by prison labour. When this factory was completed, the owner of Lochart Technogies closed down his plant in Austin, Texas, laid off his 150 employees and moved all the manufacturing equipment to Lochart.The prisoners performing this work at Lochart are paid minimum wages for this highly profitable work, and the prison keeps 80% of that for room and board. None of this comes as a surprise though when you consider that Wackenhut's board of directors consists of former members of the FBI, CIA and various sections of the US military establishment. It has in the past developed quite a reputation as strike breakers, and for running covert operations against private individuals who are either - whistle blowers, environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists and union organisers on behalf of various privately owned companies.It is also the largest provider of security related servics to the US Govt.
Corrections corporation of Australia (CCA), which has the tender for the 125 bed Women's prison at Melton which is due to open in July this year, is currently running the Borallon - correctional centre in Qld. While it has been portrayed as the ideal prison when under private management, the company and the Qld Govt. have played down the fact that this prison does not accept many categories of prisoners including protection cases, people with suicidal tendencies, psychiatric disorders and people on long term medical supervision. So all they take are inmates with the minimum of problems. Who are easy to supervise. Since opening in 1990, Borallon prison has had one death in custody.
This company is owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has, since 1993, been operating prisons in America's southern states of Texas, Tennesee, Florida and New Mexico, where every state is competing with each other to see who can imprison the most people. These states have virtually no trade union representation and a huge prison population which plays perfectly into the hands of corporations like CCA, who have made a fortune from this situation.
CCA Australia's director is Don Hutto, who was a director of corrections in Virginia and Arkansas in the US. Whilst working in those systems he was found by the US Supreme Court to have violated the 8th and 14th ammendments of the US Constitution, regarding cruel and unusual punishment. And this is the kind of person that Jeff Kennett wants to put in charge of the women currently suffering at the hands of the state run prison service!
Group 4 Remand Services Ltd, which has the tender for the 600 bed remand and reception mens prison at North Laverton, is a British based enterprise which has been involved with various projects in Australia, since the 1970's. Recently they have been endeavouring tp acquire a share in the privatisation of Adelaide's public bus transport system, they also run the Mt Gambier Correctional Centre in SA. It has already has one death in custody within 7 months of its opening in June of 1995.
Group 4 is currently operating the Wold's Remand Centre and Buckley Hill prison in Britain, where that prison service has undergone a similar radical prison privatisation program with the opening of 6 new private prisons since 1992. With the end result being an increase in the number of assaults as compared to the state run prisons, and the issuing of default notices and a fine of over 40,000 pounds for the company that runs Blakenhurst prison (part owned by CCA) by the British prison service. One officer at Blakenhurst was jailed after 33 year old Alton Manning was killed after being restrained by prison officers there.
While the Wolds remand centre has had many complaints made against it, Group 4 has persisted in conducting a media whitewash campaign in the establishment's newspapers with the operations director of Group 4, Stephen Twinn, stating in the (Melb.) Herald-Sun on the 13/4/96 that his company wanted to break away from "the negative culture among staff at - Pentridge". Whilst cutting the cost of housing inmates from $65,000 as it now costs at Pentridge prison to $36,000 a year at their proposed new remand centre at North Laverton.
This cost reduction can only be achieved in a modern (and traditionally more expensive) prison by reducing the staffing levels in both custodial and program roles, and by employing officers with little or no qualifications and experience, and paying them lower salaries than their state employed counterpart. Thus creating a negative culture among both inmates and staff, that will be much worse than has been seen in state run prisons which are extremely problematic in their own right.
One of the most disquieting aspects of this privatisation scheme has been the attitude of the Govt. and companies involved over the commodification of prisoners by this capitalistic system. It has resulted in the creation of over 450 extra beds in the Victorian prison system when Govt. statistics have indicated a 4% drop in the overall crime rate. This indicates a trend toward following the American prison system where private prison contractors constantly build more and more prisons and then lobby the appropriate governmental and judicial authorities to increase the incarceration rate in order to add to their already substantial profit taking, thus further exploiting those members of the working class who often turn to crime when they see no other alternative due to the economic rationalism induced levels of long term unemployment, most of whom are in prison for property theft and drug related offences anyway.
Ben Alterman