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Response to Stephen Franks article, Dominion Post

Response to Stephen Franks article, Dominion Post

I must take issue with Stephen Franks' flights of fantasy as expressed in his article on the privately managed Auckland Central Remand Prison. (Dominion Post, February 25)

Mr Franks' claims about the experience of private prisons in California, and a separate news story about private prisons in the same edition of the DomPost, need to be corrected.

He compares me with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is flattering in a way, because he is a testament to bodybuilding.

But, like this comparison, when it comes to the issue of private prisons, I feel I must distinguish myth from reality.

MYTH ONE: On a per inmate basis, the privately run Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP), is cheaper to operate than the Public Prisons Service (PPS).

REALITY: Public is cheaper than private. It costs $36,000 per year to manage a remand inmate in a public prison. ACRP receives $42,000 per remand inmate for its operating budget.

These figures "compare apples with apples". The figures cover staff, food, power bills etc. If building costs, including depreciation are added, the comparison becomes even less favourable to the private sector

The $72,000 per inmate cost quoted by Mr Franks is an average for maximum security sentenced inmates, and does not give an accurate comparison of the cost of managing remand inmates, who are in prison awaiting trial, either publicly or privately.

MYTH TWO: ACRP appointed the first Maori manager of a prison in New Zealand (Dom Karauria), and offers better cultural programmes to meet the needs of inmates.

REALITY: The Department of Corrections had appointed Maori or Pacific Island site managers at three prisons before the ACRP appointment. These were at Hawkes Bay Prison, Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, and New Plymouth Prison. Ohura Prison was also the first prison in New Zealand to be managed by a Maori woman.

ACRP's much feted Maori consultative group was established by the Department before the private provider was even chosen. This approach has carried through to the extensive involvement of Maori in planning for the four new facilities about to open.

Public prisons offer a range of programmes based on the needs of inmates, be it Maori Focus Units in five prisons, the Faith-Based Unit at Rimutaka Prison, and the Fautua Pasefika policies.

The Public Prisons Service is working to reduce re-offending by all inmates, be they Maori, Christian, Pacific Island, white collar fraudsters, or sex offenders.

MYTH THREE: The Government's policy on privately-managed prisons is some sort of "payoff" for the unions representing prison staff.

REALITY: This allegation from Mr Franks is just plain silly.

The Labour Party fought both the 1999 and 2002 elections with the private prison policy as part of its manifesto. It is based on Labour's philosophical belief that it is the role of Government agencies, not the commercial sector, to incarcerate offenders.

Depriving people of their liberty should not be an activity that enables a profit to be made. The experience in the United States has shown that private prison companies are vocal in the campaigns for longer prison sentences, because of the potential commercial opportunities from having more inmates locked up for longer.

As for the industrial relations climate in public prisons, collective contracts were signed last year with two unions, the PSA and CANZ. The agreements are set to run for three years.

There are currently no industrial negotiations taking place within the Public Prisons Service.

MYTH FOUR: The Public Prisons Service is in "disarray" and a new approach is needed.

REALITY: The staff turnover rate at ACRP is higher than that in the Public Prisons Service. Otherwise, it does OK but is not exceptional. For example, its rate of positive drug tests last year, at 10%, placed it around the middle of the NZ pack (five public prisons did better).

The largely state-operated New Zealand system costs less and, on most indictators, performs better than most comparable overseas systems.

Department of Corrections staff do a great job keeping the community safe, managing inmates in difficult circumstances, and preparing them to rehabilitate themselves back into the community on their release.

ACRP operates under strict state monitoring to a well-specified contract. It delivers, by and large, what it is asked to. Like most public prisons it has had its successes and its failures but its performance, good or bad, is not why it is about to leave private management.

Labour believes that locking people up is the job of government, not the private sector. It's as simple as that.


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