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National Committed To Private Prisons - Speech

NATIONAL COMMITTED TO PRIVATE PRISONS

An Address to Katikati National Party Public Meeting By Hon Tony Ryall MP National Party Spokesman for Police 7.30pm 27 February 2004

Why does the Labour Government want to pay more for running the country's prisons by taking away the opportunity for private enterprise to be involved in the prison system?

The controversial Corrections Bill, reported back to Parliament late last year, will make it illegal for the Government to contract prison management to private enterprise. Since 1999, Australian Correctional Management (ACM) has run New Zealand's only private prison, the Auckland Central Remand Prison.

Tonight I am here to tell you that the National Party will strongly oppose the new Corrections Bill.

We are calling on the Government to do another U-turn and drop their opposition to Auckland's private prison.

Frankly, I suspect Helen Clark's opposition is based more on pandering to the unions than it is on common sense.

Our Prime Minister is busy trying to hoodwink the public by telling you that she is now listening and caring about your concerns. I don't believe her.

This Prime Minister is so contrived she is the only person I know who can cry out of one eye!

Does she really expect you to believe that all along she opposed Mr Mallard's school closure policy? Come on Prime Minister. Stop treating the people like you treat your own caucus!

I want to announce that the next National Government will welcome the private sector's involvement in running our prisons.

In fact, we will ask the private sector to build and operate all future prisons in this country. New Zealand will need several new prisons over the next few years because a higher prison population has to be part of crime control. If criminals are behind bars they are not robbing or bashing decent people.

Let me explain the benefits of private sector involvement in prisons.

When introducing the Bill, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson gave only one reason for abolishing the private prison. She said: "Prisons by their very nature involve the use of highly coercive powers against individuals. This Government believes that it is inappropriate for private sector organisations to wield such powers."

With her view, Margaret Wilson is again alone on her small island of personal opinion.

As Professor Charles H. Logan, a noted expert, wrote: "Keepers do not take away anyone's freedom; catchers and convicters and sentencers do".

There is an important difference between the power to deny liberty and the job of carrying out those orders.

The power to punish belongs to the people, embodied in the Crown, and is subject to the rule of law. The rule of law applies to both the public and private sectors.

In short, the state is free to choose who carries out its custodial responsibilities and obligations. In doing so it can free up resources for priority areas like police, schools and hospitals.

The ban on private prisons is based on ideology rather than any logic or evidence.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that the Government, at the same time as abolishing private prisons, is inviting the private sector to provide prisoner custody services between prisons and courthouses. So apparently it's okay for private enterprise to use "coercive powers" between courts and prisons but not actually in prisons!

Let's look at the actual evidence of cost and quality.

Like so many things done by the Labour Government, prohibiting private prisons is contrary to international experience.

Australia, Britain, Canada, South Africa and the United States are all expanding the use of private prisons. As incarceration rates have increased, governments have looked to the private sector for the capital to build new facilities. It has been reported that the British Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wants all new prisons there built and operated by the private sector.

Yet here in New Zealand, the Department of Corrections' budget has more than doubled in eight years. Well over one billion dollars will be needed to build four new prisons in the next five years. The proposed prison at Meremere will cost taxpayers more than $260 million, compared to the $188 million original budget, when the private company ACM says it could build the 650-bed Meremere prison for half the price!

Internationally, the private sector operates prisons more cost-effectively. It is always difficult to make direct comparisons across different facility types, but numerous reputable studies have concluded the private sector operates prisons at least 5 to 15% cheaper than the public sector.

Research by Coopers and Lybrand for Her Majesty's Prison Service in 1996 concluded that private prisons provided significant operational savings of between 13 and 22% when compared with public prisons.

The privately run Auckland Central Remand Prison costs $43,000 a year per inmate on average for low to high security inmates in a high-security environment. In comparison, it costs the Public Prison Service $54,000 a year per minimum-security inmate and $72,000 a year per high security inmate.

ACM attributes its advantage to staffing arrangements outside the public prison collective contract and its innovative management and operational practices. Also, operating a more flexible staff-to-inmate ratio allows ACM to put staff into superior medical, educational and psychological services.

Critics say if private prisons are cheaper then must be at the cost of quality.

Yet ACM has met and exceeded the Government's contractual performance standards. The Department of Corrections has even congratulated ACM on its performance.

The head of Britain's National Audit Office, who has recently completed a major review of the British private prison system, said: "Competition has helped drive up standards and improve efficiency across the prison system as a whole".

The Audit Office compared Britain's private and public prisons across a checklist of quality performance criteria such as inmate safety, assaults and purposeful work. It concluded that, with one exception, private prisons provided a superior quality service.

NAO also noted that data collected from private prisons was more reliable than that from public prisons!

Professor Charles H. Logan, in a seminal study of New Mexico and West Virginia prisons using 333 indicators of quality of confinement, concludes "private prisons outperformed the state and federal prisons, often by quite substantial margins, across nearly all dimensions."

Here in New Zealand, vocal support for private prisons has also come from the Maori community. Mr Warena Taua of Iwi Whanui o Tamaki Makaurau said: "For the best part of 150 years our prisons have been characterised by sluggishness and complacency. Since the Auckland management contract, our prisons and the department that manages them have been challenged to raise their standards and come up with new solutions to old problems...like an increasing number of politicians and civic leaders, we strongly believe that removing the ACRP management contract, and preventing any further like it, represents the biggest step backwards in terms of prison management, particularly in the areas of inmate management and rehabilitation."

Private prisons are nothing radical. They are international orthodoxy. They meet the test on philosophical, cost, and quality level. They provide a vital yardstick by which we can measure the dominant public prison service. How else can we know if our government-run prisons are performing effectively and efficiently? The best test is competition.

The only reason Labour is doing away with competition in the prison system is because of left wing dogma - pure and simple. It's time New Zealand did away with Labour, and Dr Brash and our team are on target to do that.

ENDS


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