New (private) prisons for old?

The Government’s announcements about prisons old and new are becoming more and more difficult to comprehend.

We recently heard that despite a levelling off of the prison muster, and the government’s professed confidence that they have in place strategies to reduce offending and recidivism, Ministers Tolley and English have  nevertheless determined that we need yet another ‘fiscal and moral failure’, a 960-bed men’s prison at Wiri.

I invite you to do some arithmetic around the $900,000,000 Wiri proposal.  This big number is supposed to be the maximum required to build, maintain and operate the prison (including a profit margin for the private consortium of Fletchers, Spotless and Serco) for 25 years.

Let’s assume that Bill English got it right when he suggested a capital cost of $250,000 per bed, despite that figure being markedly lower than the previously estimated cost of Wiri’s construction,  in excess of $400 million.  Giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming the lower figure, that accounts for $240 million of the $900 million total.

Spread the remainder over the life of the contract; build in some assumptions about the occupancy rate for the prison;  assume (despite the lack of any evidence!)  that the private operator can dramatically reduce the $93,000 cost per prisoner per year, and see if you can produce numbers that make sense.

My calculations tell me that either the prison is going to run at a very low occupancy rate, or Serco is expected to achieve some truly heroic savings, which could only come at the expense of maintaining acceptable conditions for staff and inmates.

We are now told that the Wiri prison is needed to replace capacity which will be lost with the closure of some of our older prisons, with Invercargill, New Plymouth and Wellington’s Mt Crawford being the likely candidates.

The combined capacity of those three sites is little more than half the proposed capacity at Wiri, which begs the question of which other sites will be closed.  The degree of centralisation this would seem to entail is bad news for inmates and their families who might hope to maintain contact through visits while inmates serve their time, given the added costs of travel for people who are seldom well off financially.  The available evidence is that reducing contact between inmates and their family and other support networks reduces the likelihood of rehabilitation and reintegration, whih is bad news for community safety and the economy.

13 Comments Posted

  1. The government spends millions on new prisons. They spent about 6 million on new uniforms for staff that were not needed (according to a staff member). They have cut back on rehabilitation programmes for inmates. Only a very small proportion of inmates ever get rehab. Corrections would be better to spend their money on building more half-way houses and community programmes that inmates can access when they come out of prison which is likely to reduce our country’s rate of recidivism. Read Roger Brooking’s book ‘Flying Blind’.

  2. I am enthused however that I heard a minister on the radio yesterday saying that there is a drive to get away from “just locking people up” and actually make more efforts to keep people from coming back to prison.

    Now e just need to get a focus on keeping folks out of prison in the first place; it is prison that converts someone who committed a crime into a criminal.

  3. The real problem with this approach is that the society, by imprisoning someone is taking absolute responsibility for them. It is fundamentally immoral to then hand that responsibility and a wad of cash to someone else.

    The other problems… some work some not. I don’t care. I see NO excuse for this. There is not an argument that this should/will cost less, as there is no place for the private sector to cut costs or corners which will not abridge the rights of prisoners and abandon the responsibilities of their jailers.

    Bad idea at its heart.

  4. David – you make no sense with your claim that the new 960 bed Wiri Prison will mean prisoners are further from their families.

    Currently there are around 1000 Auckland prisoners farmed out to various prrisons around the country, because there is a shortage of prison beds in Auckland.

    The new prison will do the very OPPOSITE of what you are claiming.

  5. photonz1:

    Interesting contribution from your last comment.

    Engineering and science types are usually better people because they’re intelligent and straight-thinking, and want to do things for society that make a real contribution. They’re not so ambitious and need more than a good pay-packet to be satisfied. The ‘educated’ left-wing types are more often full of moralism and contempt – more interested in looking down on society than helping it.

    (and yes I know I’m asking for some hate mail).

  6. “Or perhaps the fact that the teaching profession is strongly left wing is because of natural self selection?”

    Ever consider that teachers choose and like to teach because they like to help others ahead of helping themselves?

  7. Shunda says “Or perhaps what she really means: only left leaning students accepted as teachers”

    Or perhaps the fact that the teaching profession is strongly left wing is because of natural self selection?

    A US study of professors found that for every one right wing professor, there were four left wing professors, even though numbers of left and right in the general population were almsot exactly even.

    What was really interesting is the differences between different subjects. For health sciences, engineering, computing and IT, and business, there were 1.5 left wing profs for every 1 right wing prof.

    But for the likes of Social Sciences the ratio was 10 left for 1 right for men and 30 left wing for 1 right wing for women, and for History the ratio is 20 to 1.

    Not surprisingly, there was also evidence that in institutions where the left wing bias was strong, it was difficult for right leaning professors to get work or promotions, regardless of their qualifications and experience.

    And out of more than 20 subject fields, there were just two where right wing professors slightly outnumbered left wing professors – predicably accounting and finance.

    There were also a few subjects where independents were over represented, but the overwhelming bias was 4 to 1 favouring left wing professors over right.

    While there may be some bias in who is selected for work in education, the significant differences in bais between different subjects suggests this is largely because of natural self selection of left and right towards the different subjects.

  8. “Only best students accepted as teachers

    Or perhaps what she really means: only left leaning students accepted as teachers”

    Hey, Shunda. You’ve topped photonz1 ‘most daft comment’ for the month.
    Well done,

  9. Some of their ideas include:

    No standardised testing

    And no idea of real world achievement.

    All teachers qualified to MA level


    A conscious attention to diversity

    A meaningless statement. Ill defined and nonsensical ‘buzz’ words.

    No streaming in high school classes


    Free ECE plus school meals for all

    Not the states job to feed my kids, and never should be.

    All learners access to remedial help


    Local public schools expected to be high quality

    Yeah, and when anyone here suggests that our schools and particularly teachers may not be, out come the knives!!

    Only best students accepted as teachers

    Or perhaps what she really means: only left leaning students accepted as teachers

    No homework at primary school


  10. Not a reader of Catch22 John. This is pure Milo Minderbinder , contracting to both sides and providing everyone with a share. The prison will quickly realign the” levelling off or decline” , in the spiral of crime and fulfil its purpose. It’s the perfect business plan.

  11. Drug courts & now Private prisons.. sounds like the Govts. latest Business Plan. “round the ‘druggies’ up & Lock ’em all up” ?

    Then they can sell this ‘commodity’ to the highest bidder. SHAME


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