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Issue #1528      23 November 2011

Parklea shows jail privatisation linked to escapes, deaths

Prisoner escapes and deaths in custody would rise if the state government continues to pursue a privatisation agenda in NSW jails, the prison officers’ union said. A privatisation hit list, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, identifies a number of jails which could be sold off in the interests of “greater contestability” in the sector.

But privatisation would lead to worse outcomes for prisoners and prison officers – a scenario already playing out in Sydney’s Parklea jail which was privatised last year, said Public Service Association (PSA) senior industrial officer Stewart Little.

“Privatisation leads to less accountability and transparency, meaning the government can cover up a litany of sins.

“Our information coming out of Parklea is that there has been an increase in escapes, leading to fines for the private operator. We are also hearing that deaths in custody have risen. These are not acceptable trade-offs for saving money by selling off the operation of our prisons.”

Prisons are a central part of the justice system, like courts and policing, said Mr Little. “The state government could decide to privatise particular NSW Police local area commands to drive efficiencies and introduce more competition into the system. But would the community accept that?

“Administering justice is core government business. Prisons are a critical component of the justice system.”

Prison officers have worked with government to introduce efficiencies and work practices that save money and lead to better outcomes for prisoners. “We will continue to do that. However we are not willing to stand by and watch a race to the bottom in terms of staffing levels and cost savings.

“Lowering staffing levels might be an easy way to save money – but it poses unacceptable risks to the safety of prisoners and prison officers. The PSA is calling on the NSW government to release figures on serious incidents, escapes and deaths in custody at Parklea prison.”  

Next article – No audit requirement for Serco

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