The case against Serco holding prison contracts in N.Z.


This article looks at Serco’s involvement in the prison industry around the world. It examines the company’s involvement Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, where Serco have contracts to maintain and provide prison/detention facilities for the Governments of those nations.

Originally founded in the United Kingdom, Serco is a multinational company that specialises in outsourcing. It holds government contracts in a wide of areas, from defence to prisons, to health and driver licensing. In New Zealand it is best known for operating Mount Eden Prison in Auckland, where it has had a chequered record of mismanagement. As another incident comes to light, it is worthwhile questioning the suitability of private companies running prisons.

In 2013, Serco neglected a prisoner in Mount Eden Prison, whose toes had become gangrenous and were in danger of falling off. This along with another in 2012 point to repeated failures in Serco’s processes as the operator of the prison, which are sufficient to make one question its suitability to running Mount Eden. In 2015 the company was found to know about a “fight club” where prisoners set up fights, which led to the death of an inmate. The company was not charged with manslaughter although it was found that Serco could have taken steps to avoid it. Also in 2015, Serco wrongfully reported an attack on a prisoner. Given an attack on another person is a quite deliberate offence, did Serco intentionally misreport the attack to hide an appearance of poor management?

New Zealand is not the only country where Serco is in the business of running prisons. It has extensive interests including Government contracts in the United Kingdom, where it is responsible for Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal centre. Most of the detainees there are female, and about half the staff are male. Widespread sexual abuse allegations have been made against staff there whilst under Serco’s control. Its treatment of women there has caused concerns with the local Womens Refuge, who are concerned about the vulnerable state of the women housed at Yarl’s Wood.

In all of these countries following revelations of poor management Serco have promisd to improve their conduct and address the concerns raised. However, given that in the case of New Zealand, abuses seem to be an ongoing problem and that past recommendations do not appear to be getting implemented, can we be sure that Serco is fit for purpose? I think not.

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