Renationalizing our prisons

Recently I have become aware, like so many others, of fight clubs in New Zealand prisons.

But it is not – bad as they are – the fight clubs that bother me, but the nature of the management of the prisons where they have been occurring. The fight clubs have abounded in prisons where rather than the State via the Ministry of Corrections running the facilities, they are actually operated by private companies.

I accept that there is a place for the private sector in many State operated sectors. In education for example tertiary institutions that are not universities or polytechnics, which have an emphasis on skill and trade based learning, such as Vision College take pressure off the more streamlined educational institutions, as well as offering diversity of choice. Others, such as the energy sector, telecommunications sector and so forth are other good examples of where private sector involvement is good.

There is however no place – at least in my book – for the private sector to be involved in operating facilities that are for judicial purposes. New Zealanders have a right to expect that the nature of justice and the institutions and individuals who are best placed to maintain and operate these facilities is above profit making, which is the first priority of any person, organization or otherwise in the private sector. The reasons for this are ethical, as well as legal.

One major concern that I have with private firms working in security is that they will not handle dangerous situations in an appropriate way, or that by being privately run, the system is at potential risk of bribery and other fraudulent behaviour taking place. This was highlighted by the recent findings of fight clubs existing in New Zealand prisons. I find it rather hard to believe that people in positions of responsibility were not made to accidentally look the other way in order for this problem to stay hidden for so long. I am not saying that such conduct does not happen in publicly run prisons, but in publicly run prisons there is accountability that is often short coming in privatized systems.

Another concern I have is that our legal treatises, signed by New Zealand as a responsible nation wanting a fair deal on the global stage, might not be given the due regard in implementing the running of a privatized prison system. How much damage are we potentially opening ourselves up to, and when potential damage to our credibility is identified would the operator take ownership of the problems and rectify them – it is the right thing to do, but when money talks that depends on ones perspective. One only has to look at the Australian detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island to see how the private company there (Wilsons Security)is botching its responsibilities and possibly costing lives in doing so.

I therefore expect that New Zealand will renationalize our prison system entirely. Get Serco out of the prison system and make sure it is the first and only instance of a private company running a New Zealand prison. It is a price the taxpayer and the State have to pay, but the advantages and the legal and ethical responsibilities demand nothing else.

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