NZ '20 years behind' as US announces end of private prisons

The Corrections Association says it is not surprised the US has chosen to phase out private prisons, but doubts the New Zealand government will follow suit.

Those opposed to private operators running prisons are welcoming the move. Source: 1 NEWS

Spokesperson Bevan Hanlon told ONE News the move was so surprising that he had initially thought it was a hoax, saying the amount of corporate money and political lobbying involved made him think it would never happen.

US Deputy Attorney Sally Yates this morning New Zealand time instructed Justice Department officials to begin phasing out private management in the country's 13 privately-run facilities.

This would happen gradually through the non-renewal or substantial reduction of their contracts over time, the Washington Post reported.

The move comes on the back of scathing report into privately-run prisons in the country, which showed contraband, assaults, deaths and other incidents were all higher at privately-run jails, and the standard of food and medical care was lower than federal institutions.

"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Ms Yates said.

Mr Hanlon says it is great news, but he will be surprised if the New Zealand government takes any notice.

"It is a great thing," he said.

"I just wish we weren't 20 years behind everyone else - that's our government thinking.

"I just think they'll hope nothing happens."

The Green Party has urged the Government to follow the example of the US, with justice spokesman David Clendon saying Corrections Minister Judith Collins "needs to show leadership".

"Private prisons are morally wrong and financially pointless, so it looks a lot like National are holding on to Serco for ideological reasons, not good sense," he said in a statement.

"The US has been a huge proponent of private prisons for a long time, so it’s really significant that they are taking this step and acknowledging that for-profit jails lead to more violence and more human rights violations."

'Fight club' videos

Mark Irwin, Serco's Asia Pacific chief executive, made the apology in a press conference today. Source: 1 NEWS

Private operator Serco lost the multi-million dollar contract to run Mount Eden Corrections Facility last year after videos of prisoner-run fight clubs were revealed by ONE News.

Serco still runs the 960-bed South Auckland Corrections Facility, and has a 25-year contract, which was awarded by the government in 2010.

The Corrections Association has always fought against privatisation in New Zealand, Mr Hanlon said, and he was unsurprised when the videos emerged of what was happening inside MECF.

"We've said from the start that privatisation in New Zealand is a failed experiment - we said it at the Select Committee when the National government were rushing to change legislation to allow it," he said.

"We predicted it at that stage - before they had even privatised Mount Eden - that Mount Eden was going to do what it did. It's in our Select Committee submissions.

"We then said, for the first three or four years, that those things were happening in Mount Eden and that all the stats that were coming out were false, and it finally took the prisoners to publish videos of what was going on.

"Ironically it was the prisoners that fixed it - let's just hope it doesn't need to be fixed in South Auckland."

A Corrections Department spokesperson said it was not a matter them to comment on, as the Department is "directed by the legislation set by the government of the day".

SERCO director of operations Scott McNairn spoke to ONE News Source: 1 NEWS

Minister of Corrections Judith Collins has been contacted for comment.