An Audience With Marc Alexander
An Audience With Marc Alexander
Ex restaurateur, talkback radio show host, and Sensible Sentencing Trust member - now United Future MP, Marc Alexander took the time in early June to answer some questions from Scoop regarding the recently passed Correction's Bill and related issues in this increasingly contentious area.
Private Vs Public Prisons
The recently passed Correction's Bill will mean the end of New Zealand's experiment with a privately run prison service. Marc Alexander has long been a champion of the privately run Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) and considers the move to a totally state run prison service in New Zealand is Service (PPS) is driven by ideology.
However many opponents of the privately run prison consider that 'apples are not being compared with apples', and that the reason the privately run prison has succeeded is because the ACRP was at the time it became a privately run prison New Zealand's newest prison and also a remand prison.
Scoop: What sort of success could a remand prison have, given the inmates are all technically innocent?
Alexander: If you have a look at remand prisons around the world you will find that self harm rates and suicide rates are much higher than normal prisons. The reason is, people who go to a remand prison have a big question mark hanging over their future. I’m taking about drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The philosophy is keep them occupied, keep them interested, and think about life on the outside. They [inmates at Auckland Central Remand Prison - ACRP] don’t have as many aggressive encounters in the prisons as the state prison does.
Scoop: Given that a remand inmate hasn’t yet been found guilty - wouldn’t a remand prisoner have a vested interest in not taking to a guard with a chisel?
Alexander: You’re right – talking like a rational human being – however there are plenty of people in there [the remand prison] motivated by amphetamine addictions or their other drug problems or the fact they can’t find meaningful work.
Scoop: Isn’t that a concern though, that there are less prison officers?
Alexander: Well… what is the outcome then? The outcome has been brilliant. We haven’t had huge numbers of breakouts. We haven’t had huge numbers of fights.
Scoop: It [ACRP] is a new prison though. Could the age and design of the prison have an impact there?
Alexander: Prison age has got an awful lot to do with it. You cannot compare the remand prison with one or two of the other prisons because the geographical layout precludes being able to do too much with them. Even though, if you have a look at private prison management in Australia…State managed prisons are starting to look just as good. But you have to have the competition between the two. One keeps the other one honest. The [NZ]Labour Government…wants to get rid of the privately managed prison. It’s basically a closed shop.
Scoop: Are the wages less in the privately run prison?
Alexander: The wages are lower but the benefits are higher. They’ve got all their meals, they’ve got medical care. The package is probably not much different. But there was a different culture. The guards at the remand prison saw themselves as not just guards, but as an intrinsic part of the well being of the prisoner. That’s not the case for the state managed prisons for the most part.
Scoop: Do you think though that if Australian Correctional Management the company awarded the contract in 1999 had been given D block as their first prison to run that may have provided a fairer challenge?
Alexander: To be honest, yes, because they [ACM] would have wanted to get a lot of the other prisons ‘on line’ as well. They would have made a huge investment. They [ACM] would have made damn all money out of it but they would have made a huge investment to make it work.
Scoop: Are you implying that if given Mt Eden they would have brought it up to standard to get all the Public Prison Service?
Alexander: Not all of it. We wouldn’t want them [private prison management] to get all of it. That would put it [the prison service] into monopoly hands. And I’m absolutely opposed to that. I think we need to have a process where we tender prison management. Let’s get the best result for the least amount of cost for our taxpayers.
Scoop: Now that the Bill [Corrections Bill] has gone through do you think when ACRP reverts to the Public Prison Service (PPS) things will stay the same or will it go downhill?
Alexander: It will go downhill. Absolutely…without a doubt. The amount of guards will go up. Some of the programmes will be cut. When the prison management [at ACRP] walked in the doors they said we’re going to have a changed culture here. Knowing that many inmates would be Pacific Islanders or Maori they invited Iwi to get involved at a ground level.
Scoop: But that was put in the original contract by the Department of Corrections. So it was actually the Department of Corrections stating that?
Alexander: Yes, but the extent to which that partnership has gone is beyond whatever the tendering process is about. If you have a look at the Maori focus groups in the other prisons it’s just an excuse to ask for more money.
Scoop: You say ACRP have exceeded their programmes. The same company [not obviously Dom Kararuia and the staff at ACRP] that runs ACRP also ran the Woomera detention camp. Do you have any concerns regarding that sort of management structure?
Alexander: Privately managed prisons can be as good or as bad as the tendering process and the people that run them. If they’re no good you throw them out.
Scoop: Is it to do with the tendering process then?
Alexander: Well the tendering process is where you sit down and say these are the sort of things we want in a prison. You don’t achieve them – we fire you… The only example of a privately run prison in New Zealand is doing a stunning, stunning job. Even the Labour Party people agree that it’s doing a great job. For ideological reasons they don’t want it?
Scoop: What do you say to the criticism from the left that if under a change of Government a privately run prison would just as happily give bread and water and floggings [ rather than liaise with Iwi and rehabilitation programmes]?
Alexander: You don’t have to have a privately run prison to achieve that. We’ve got the goon squad – well we did have the goon squad – they [the PPS] can achieve that all on their own.
Scoop: I think part of the argument there (from opponents to privately run prisons) is that people in the Department of Corrections may say ‘no sorry we may be breaking a few United Nation’s rules if we bring in floggings.'?
Alexander: Well have look at the American prison in Iraq. That’s the United States Government running that prison.
Scoop: With private contractors though.
Alexander: Yes but it’s the soldiers that are running it. I don’t think the state can always be regarded as the best place to manage anything.
Scoop: New Zealand was recently criticised by a United Nations report for failing to segregate asylum seekers from other prisoners nearly all asylum seekers are held at ACRP if there are security concerns. Is there a law stating that ACRP couldn’t segregate asylum seekers ? If not, given the fact they have supposedly exceeded their targets in most other areas [of their contract relating to prisoner well being] why have they not attempted to exceed their responsibilities in this area?
Alexander: No there is no law that says they shouldn’t [segregate asylum seekers]. They [ACRP] have been above muster on many occasions. I’ve got some sympathy for the view that asylum seekers should actually be segregated because we are not talking about criminals here. I have a bit of a problem with them being next to murderers. Having said that ACRP has the capacity to move people around and take them out of the general remand population [should they be fearful for their safety].
Alexander: My biggest fear is that people go into prison and we are letting them out way too early simply because we need the beds.