GEO Group record in private prisons – very very bad

One of the companies that is apparently in discussions with National to run a private prison is The GEO Group Inc. They ran the Auckland Central Remand Prison when it was privatised. John Key is reported as saying that they produced “very good results”.

The GEO Group, Inc. is part of the The Wackenhut Corporation, the owner of 13 correctional facilities, 11 of which are operated by GEO. They have immigrant detention centres, youth facilities and adult prisons. GEO’s value now apparently exceeds a billion dollars. CorpWatch has reported that they:

• settled a case where they placed a woman in a cellblock with male inmates who raped and beat her, she later took her life;
• had 125 inmates removed from a prison by state authorities for inadequate staff training and inadequate health care;
• served rotten food;
• knowing made false and misleading statements to state officials;
• failed to complete criminal record checks on at least 100 guards;
• violated domestic and international laws on due process and humane treatment;

We don’t want these kinds of “very good results” thanks John.

Hone argued on radio this morning that Maori would do a better job of running prisons than the Corrections Department. Yes, the Department needs to do much much better. Yes, Maori organisations need to be much more involved in prison management. In fact, the Community sector as a whole has a crucial role in collaboration with Corrections to focus our prisons towards rehabilitation so that our communitites are safer when prisoners are released.

But NO-ONE neither Maori nor Corporations should make a profit from the core social contract function of the state of imprisoning our people.

BTW the Standard has linked GEO to the Sensible Sentencing Trust, who have bitten back.

27 Comments Posted

  1. No we need to make it harder and shorter. Geoffrey Palmer decided (as I understand it) that prison “shouldn’t be for punishment”. Prisoners shouldn’t have the same human rights we extend to those on the outside.

  2. jh Says:
    March 14th, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    > The reason SST is popular is that it is generally perceived that prison has little deterrent value

    so we need to make sentences longer and spend even more money on not deterring criminals?

  3. A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
    We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

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    Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

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    There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

    Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

    The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
    These new slave plantations are not the answer!

    For more information please visit: or email:
    To sign the petition please visit:


    William Thomas
    National Community Outreach Facilitator
    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
    P.O. Box 156423
    San Francisco, California 94115

  4. The reason SST is popular is that it is generally perceived that prison has little deterrent value and the bill of rights is too kind to crims. In other words we don’t accept the world view of the left.

  5. Soft Prisons don’t work.
    The Japanese know how to run prisons

    Extracts from Internal Regulations, Fuchu Prison, Tokyo.

    – Do not reveal names and addresses of your family to fellow inmates.
    – While walking avoid folding your arms or hands, putting your hands in your pockets….waving your shoulders intentionally or dragging your shoes….
    – Always obey any instructions given by prison officers even if this booklet has not referred to the matter.

    – Do not wash your head or body in your room at your own will. Do not wash clothes without permission.
    – Do not lie down in your room whenever you please. Avoid leaning against the bedding or sitting on it.
    – Your sitting position in the room should be as designated in the chart in your room.
    In a single room, sit facing the table while working, taking meals or during leisure hours. During bed time, you can sit on the bed.
    Those under punishment should sit on the stool at the designated place in the correct position.

    – You are not allowed to leave your work area without permission. Idle talk is prohibited. Raise your hand to obtain permission from your factory guard beforehand when you have to leave your work area.
    – When you go to the toilet you shall take a permission tag with you, and hang it in a fixed place. Conversation in the toilet is prohibited.

    – Do not soil or tear off the permit attached to each notebook.
    – Use each notebook for its authorised purpose only. Avoid lending it or asking others to write for you on it.
    – Handle your notebook with care and avoid soiling and tearing.
    – Use an eraser or draw lines to correct errors. Do not tear off any page.
    – Use the notebook in the order of pages and do not leave blank pages.
    – You may divide a notebook into two parts and use it from both ends. A notebook for study or vocational training may be divided into three or more parts when deemed necessary. Get permission from the officer in charge beforehand….Indexes should be put in each section.
    – Submit your notebooks to officers for censorship when required.

  6. Xchequer: You’ll find many people here who have been around the block more than a few times. We assume – based on experience – that openness and transparency will not be features of anything National does with private operators. That’s because they avoided openness and transparency at every opportunity in the past. Their RMA changes show the same disregard for the public good as do the points made by I/S in his own analysis.

    This is no longer a theoretical concern. We went there in the 90’s and loss of transparency and accountability was the norm…..and to be expected. What the government says about is hardly relevant. It’s what they DO…and we’ve seen already what they DO.

  7. As well as the excellent points made by I/S, the other aspect here is that of ensuring contract compliance. Since the relationship between govt and private contractor is usually deemed to be “commercially sensitive”, it is often removed from public view. Thus, both the government AND the operator have every incentive to hide problems, and generally make everything sound perfectly wonderful. The public is to often poorly served. The prison atrocities in Texas and elsewhere were possible because the people overseeing the contracts were captured or colluding with the contractors….or simply negligent. Example of lax regulatory oversight being employed as a tactic to enhance profits and reduce accountabilty and transparency are legion. All the evidence I’m aware of says National will oversee an apparatus that will do this as badly as it has been done almost everywhere I know of…and in arena far removed from corrections.

    This applies to ANY contract between government and private operator. If it isn’t completely transparent, it WILL be abused sooner or later.

  8. Well spotted, I/S.

    I agree that the Ombudsman (I guess it won’t be too long before we have to say “Ombudsperson”…..sigh) should be there at the least to represent the public in the management of such services – especially ones so socially important as custody of our criminals.

    Toad: I see what you are saying however if you decide to protect the identity of your donors for whatever reason, you gotta do that and not just change your rules because some Tane wants it to.

    Example: If I had contributed $1000 to the SST but wanted my privacy for my own reasons, whats to stop other people from finding out if Tane were to have his way?

    Now I’m not saying that the SST’s methods here are right – personally I would like all lobby groups to front up with their donors IF they have some relative commercial interest in the groups pursuits. But da rules are da rules! And just because they happen to frustrate Tane’s line of questioning doesn’t make them open for breaking.

  9. I don’t care who runs prisons. What I want is errant/naughty/stupid people taught how to not re-offend and bad people locked away. As I have suggested before, if bonus payment/profit was dependent on the released prisoner not reoffending, then I’m quite relaxed about private prisons. The payout must be results driven. Bonuses based on non-recidivism could work well within the state run system’s management too.
    What you do with the truly bad is another matter.

  10. XChequer said: Tane at the Standard speculated about “what if” one day, then next thing you know because they won’t reveal their donors, then that means there is a link.

    XChequer, it is more than that the SST won’t reveal their donors. It is that they failed to deny, when challenged by Tane, that they receive funding from private prison interests. Instead, they sought to obfuscate and misdirect through a media release that, as Lynn Prentice pointed out at The Standard, was almost as vitriolic, OTT and just plain weird as something dad4justice or Whaleoil might have written.

  11. And where did the Government say that?

    It’s in their private prisons bill. My quick and dirty analysis – quoted above – is here.

    Accountability and oversight matters to all of us, no matter which side of the “law and order” debate we’re on. How do you think the SST gets their information? They use the OIA. Its not just troublemakers like me who rely on it to hold Corrections to account.

  12. I’m sure idiot/savant would not mind me quoting him XChequer

    “What’s missing? Firstly, the Ombudsmen. They have an important role in the monitoring of prisons” ………….

    and …… “The second obvious omission is of course the OIA. Currently, we can demand information from Corrections, and we can do that at all levels, down to and including a prison manager. But under this bill, we won’t be able to anymore”

    and he also notes …………… “I’m also horrified by this clause (new s199B (2)):

    For the purposes of determining the liability of the Crown or the contractor for any act or omission of a contractor or a contractor’s employees or agents, neither the contractor nor the contractor’s employees or agents are to be treated as agents of the Crown.
    Despite the fact that that is in fact exactly what they are”

    He sums up ………….. “I loathe the idea of private prisons and sadism for profit; but this implementation of it simply stinks. It would remove private prisons from public scrutiny and from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsmen, and so dramatically weaken oversight. The effect would be to reduce accountability. And where prisons are concerned, that’s not something any civilised society can afford.”

  13. Wat dabney should know that the GEO group which for some ‘unknown’ reason is the natianals/Govts preferred bidder is known for running prisons to a very low standard …………….

    And as Meyt has pointed out the Govt seems keen to NOT allow proper oversight in how private opperators would run the show ……….

    Mind you with the John Key and the Nats in power the prison ‘industry’ looks like the only one set for growth.

    I’m kind of surprised that ol johnny boy didn’t bring it up and crow about it at his recent jobs talk fest.

    he could have said something like this ………….. ” I envisage 10% of NZ’s workforce working in prisons guarding the 10% of NZers we’d like to lock up, if we all make sacrifices and cut back on luxurys like pensions and ACC we can do it!!!!.’

  14. The fact still remains Metiria that there is still no proof, no evidence – not even a lead of any type – that links the SST to CEO. Tane at the Standard speculated about “what if” one day, then next thing you know because they won’t reveal their donors, then that means there is a link.

    This is some seriously flawed thinking and would just be a political beat up except that would be a euphemism.

    Further, your speculation above in reply to wat dabney is exactly that – speculation. You don’t know that this will happen.

    The question is “Are we happy with the status quo or are we prepared to try and look for better ways?” Now I’m not saying that CEO is the answer, just maybe they are. Would should at least try, Metiria, in the interests of the public. And we shouldn’t be scared to try something. Especially since the current system is running so well.


  15. If private prisons are made subject to the same standards and government inspection regime as state ones, as in the UK, then there appears to be no real obstacle.
    I’m sure the difficulties of the state (or a competitor) taking over a failing prison are not insurmountable; and the very fact that such a step can be taken is a serious incentive for any private provider to deliver to a hihg standard – an incentive entirely lacking under a state monopoly.

  16. Wat dabney

    The bill appears to exclude the any requirement that the private prison comply with the OIA or the Ombusdsman. They are both processes that ensure oversight and accountability by the public and they are missing from the legal obligations of the contractors.

    As the GEO Group example shows, some companies can do a great deal of harm before there is any risk that they may lose a contract. Given Nationals ideological committment to private prisons and the comparative difficulty and cost of the state taking over a private prison if the contract is lost, we can expect that contracts will not be lost by private prison companies very easily at all. This is likely to be the case should a private company run the first one or two prisons as loss leaders and then seek to recover profits on later prison contracts.


  17. The insinuation against the SST is very interesting ………..

    I think it plays out like this ……….. Private prison operators who make money out of prisoners give money and support to groups who call for longer prison sentances …………..

    I wonder if the ACT party is getting money from the same people ?

    Would this influence them in their ‘law and order’ policys ???

    ……… and how many anonynmous donations does it take for the nats and Act to start drafting the kind of laws the anonymous people like ???????????.

    GEO or wackenhut have some interesting stuff written about them on wikipedia

    Fraud, corruption, poor training, cutting rehabilitiation to make more profit etc etc etc.

    They seem to be a rotten outfit and one has to ask just why they are the preferred bidder.

    Once more ………… How much anonymous does one have to give the natianal party before you become a ‘preferred bidder’ ???

    The way the natianal party is going, when they do get voted out of office I can see the new Govt having to use urgency for 200 days to get rid of all the bad laws they are pushing through.

  18. “CorpWatch has reported that…”

    What’s your point?

    Are you saying nothing bad ever happens in state prisons?

    Are you saying that private prisons are inherently worse than state ones?

    Really, what is your point?

    The UK has a number of private prisons, all subject to exactly the same inspection regime as the state ones:

    You can click through to the government inspectors’ reports. From the ones I clicked on, there is no reason to believe they are any worse that state owned prisons (and HMP Altcourse boasts that “An excellent Chief Inspector of Prisons Report was published on 18th April 2000. The report cited 45 examples of good practice at Altcourse and described it as the ‘jewel in the crown of the Prison Service’.”)

    Where exactly is the problem?

    As for your sly insinuation of shady money being used to finance the Sensible Sentencing Trust, what do you make of prison staff unions in the US paying a million dollars to lobby against the legalisation of drugs, just so that hundreds of thousands of people will continue to be locked up, keeping the union members in jobs?

    The state and its self-interested employees have no incentive to run better prisons than private companies; the reverse in fact, because private companies can lose their contract if they underachieve.

  19. I dread the day that we make any policy concessions with the National Party. They are a band of crooks who are endangering New Zealand’s core and I am proud that our party is in opposition. It’s the only place to be when you have such dangerous policy making going on.

  20. Oh, and I see there has been some more on this at The Standard.

    I particularly enjoyed this reference to the SST release:

    …and makes me wonder about a nutter who can put out the type of press release that McVicar did. It is almost a d4j level. In fact it looks like the work of the bloated one.

  21. Hardly a bite Meyt – more like a slobbery lick! What SST say is:

    The Sensible Sentencing Trust is funded by public donations and receives no government funding.

    Which is entirely consistent with the speculation at The Standard:

    The extremely well funded and media savvy Sensible Sentencing Trust has come to dominate our public discussion on law and order in recent years but they’ve steadfastly refused to reveal where their funding is coming from. Their policy platform of “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” matches ALEC’s right down to the rhetoric.

    “Public donations” is a term that is inclusive of donations from corporate interests that may aspire to run private prisons and would therefore profit from more prisoners and longer sentences. Interestingly, the SST media release does not deny that it receives funding from such interests.

    The SST also seeks to misdirect on the issue raised at The Standard that it is not registered under the Charities Act. SST’s response is that it is “a registered charitable trust with IRD approved donee status”. That is a different issue – a search of the Charities Register reveals the SST is not registered as a charity, whatever its status with IRD may be.

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