Metiria Turei

Private prisons are not cheaper

by Metiria Turei

Last night the parliament debated the first reading of the Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Bil.

I have blogged about this issue frequently, but not yet addressed the key argument of National – that private prisons are cheaper.

So I used my speech last night to refer to both Australian and US research that showed that privately run prisons are not demonstrably cheaper for the public than publicly run prisons. Below are some extracts and links to the documents.

What is of most concern of course, is that if the cost to the public is essentially the same, where are the massive profits coming from? That can only be from a significant reduction in the provision of rehab services, health services, retraining, significant staff reductions and other core services that help to reduce the reoffending rate of prisoners. Hence the argument that as the key to a successful business is repeat customers, providing a perverse incentive for private prison management to minimise programs that reduce reoffending.

The US Department of Justice report, Emerging Issues on Privatised Prisons clearly showed that the privatisation model simply mimicked the public sector in practically every critical way. The promises from private companies in the US of 20% savings simply did not eventuate. Any modest savings made were by reductions in staffing and other labour related costs. The report concluded that the amount of savings in corrections costs “will not revolutionise modern correctional practices.” In other words has no practical impact on the cost of running prisons or on the practice of running prisons.

An Australian report, “Privatisation and New South Wales Prisons: Value for Money and Neo-liberal Regulation” published just last year also showed that the privatisation of prison did not result in value for money or a significant reduction in costs. In fact, the paper shows that the rhetoric of cost effectiveness undermined alternative criteria for assessment, such as safety, educational outcomes, or reduced reoffending. This is where the National government is duping the public. By misleading the public on the efficiency of private prison management they are diverting attention from the most important issue of all – the effective use of taxpayers money to keep the community safe.

Meyt says

Published in Justice & Democracy by Metiria Turei on Wed, March 25th, 2009   

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