Magazine article New Internationalist

Crime Pays: Well, It Does If You Run the Prison. Amanda George Describes the Opposition to Profitable Punishment in Australia

Magazine article New Internationalist

Crime Pays: Well, It Does If You Run the Prison. Amanda George Describes the Opposition to Profitable Punishment in Australia

Article excerpt

Well, it does if you run the prison. Amanda George describes the opposition to profitable punishment in Australia.

IT'S ironic that Australia - colonized 200 years ago to serve as one big British prison - is now a showroom for the world's private prison corporations: giants like Securicor, Group 4 Falck (formerly Wackenhut) and the Corrections Corporation of America. Governments from Victoria to Western Australia have handed more prisons to private operators than anywhere else in the world. Even the country's seven immigration detention centres have been contracted out - the infamous Woomera camp in the South Australian desert is run by a Group 4 Falck affiliate.

Privatization started in Australia in the late 1980s and was in full swing by the early 1990s. Publicly run hospitals, bus lines, water companies, energy utilities and prisons were all put on the block. Given that 80 per cent of the cost of running a prison is labour, private companies promised a cheaper system based on fewer workers and more electronic surveillance.

The policy was pursued most aggressively in the southern state of Victoria: soon 80 per cent of women and half of all male prisoners were in corporate-run institutions. But Victoria was also the site of prison privatization's most vigorous and successful opposition.

Even before private operators, Victoria had a strong prison activist culture - particularly around women's prisons. For two decades I helped organize regular demonstrations outside the state women's prison where sometimes more than a thousand people would hold hands and encircle the building. Our strategy was simple: to get our message about the stark reality of prison life into the media.

So when the first private women's prison outside of the US - the Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre - opened in 1996 (run by the Australian subsidiary of Corrections Corporation of America) we were ready.

Women prisoners themselves were central to the new battle. In the first week all of them held a sit-in over the cancellation of visits from children. Management said the visits required too many staff. The women won.

The company's use of electronic surveillance meant there was little human contact between staff and inmates. …

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