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Issue #1495      30 March 2011


Rally to end privatisation of prisons services

Since January 2008, when Aboriginal Elder Mr Ward died in custody from heat stroke in a van contracted out to the company G4S, Mr Ward’s family and supporters have been attempting to secure justice for him so that needless deaths in custody like his do not happen again.

While a measure of justice has occurred since then with the Coronial Inquest into the death returning findings that the actions of individual van drivers, G4S and the Department of Corrective Services were on balance responsible for the death and that the Ward family received an ex-gratia payment as compensation for the death, the Department of Public Prosecutions decided against launching a criminal prosecution.

Instead a Worksafe prosecution has been launched against G4S for failing to ensure the safety and health of Mr Ward, resulting in his death.

This year the contract for the transport of prisoners in custody comes up for renewal and the two principle companies who are putting in bids for the contract are the disgraced G4S and SERCO who are synonymous with privatisation not only in Western Australia but around the world.

With such a choice being put to WA citizens, the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee called for a rally attended by about 50 people at Parliament House to protest the ongoing push for privatisation of prison transport, prisons in general and other related prisoner services.

Though there were not many members of the public who were able to attend another lunchtime protest, the rally was well attended by trade union officials and politicians who are well aware of the consequences of the continued privatisation of prison services.

The first to speak was Prison Officers Union secretary John Welch who said that his union was against the privatisation of prisons as there was a lack of accountability of the provision of the service and a private company was predominantly interested in returning a profit to shareholders which would lead to cost cutting, a lack of training and lack of value for money to the WA taxpayer.

He added that the two worst failings of the WA prison transport system involved directly the actions of privately run prison transport services, the 2004 Supreme Court mass prisoner breakout and the 2008 death in transport from Laverton to Kalgoorlie of Mr Ward.

Welch said it was time to return custodial transport services back to public hands where there was sufficient scrutiny of the services provided, staff received appropriate training and prisoners were safely transported and appropriately cared for.

The next speaker was John McManus from the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO) from England, an organisation which includes Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6, a group of people who were wrongly imprisoned for a number of years on trumped up terrorism charges.

McManus said that like Australia, Britain was imprisoning increasing numbers of people and privatising prisons as a perceived way of doing this more cheaply.

Information obtained under Freedom of Information by the Independent newspaper in June 2009 confirms the appalling conditions under which many prisoners are kept in England; many prisons are run by SERCO and G4S.

“Separate figures show that nearly twice as many prisoner complaints are upheld in private prisons as there are in state-run institutions.” said the Independent article.

McManus added that most of the people in prison in the UK were there on drug related charges – and often imprisonment is not the most effective way to deal with drug related offences.

Two prisons, Blackenhurst and Buckley Hall which were previously run by a private contractor, are now publicly run.

Prisoner accommodation and prisoner transport were not the only services being considered for privatisation, according to Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association secretary Toni Walkington, who said the government had introduced a bill into parliament which sought to privatise some parts of community corrections and parole supervision, which Ms Walkington said it was sought to have carried out more cheaply by the charity sector. This would lead to a lack of accountability and a decline in service standards as the government sought to cut costs and made the effective rehabilitation of offenders a secondary objective.

The final speaker was Pastor Geoffrey Stokes from Kalgoorlie who spoke about the most recent Aboriginal death in custody, this time with the police. The death is also the subject of a coronial inquest.

The person, Mr Phillips, a 51 year old man who is also a relative of Mr Stokes, was well known to the police and had mental and physical conditions including having only one hand. According to his lawyer he should not have been imprisoned for the disorderly offences for which he was charged. Mr Stokes said that the death of Mr Phillips was preventable and highlighted that in Kalgoorlie Aboriginal people were often over policed.

The death has led to calls for a public rally in Kalgoorlie for Friday April 8.

The rally concluded with the presentation of a petition to the WA parliament demanding that the government terminate the G4S contract and return custodial transport to the public service to make it accountable to the WA people and parliament.  

Next article – Campaign targets government to keep jobs promises

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