Friday April 10, 2009 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"Christine Rau, the sister of Cornelia Rau who was held unlawfully in the Baxter detention centre and Queensland jails, causing a furore over Immigration detention in Australia, has slammed the preferred immigration tenderer - UK jail services contractor Serco's Australia subsidiary - in an opinion piece this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning. (transcript below)
"Ms Rau, a free-lance journalist, points at the human rights abuses of the company in the UK, where the company was subject to an inquiry ordered by the British High Court, at cost blowouts connected with the privatisation of jails in general and immigration detention, at the selection and recruitment process and at the undermining of the duty of care when the primary agenda becomes looking after a listed company's shareholders rather than looking after its inmates."
"Last week, Australia's Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans, announced that Serco Australia, who also operates Western Australia's Acacia prison - where several deaths in custody raised many questions in the early 2000's - has become his preferred tenderer to operate Australia's Immigration detention centres, but the company has a history of deaths in custody in the UK and it was subject to several inquiries," Project SafeCom's Jack H Smit said.
Reports of these inquiries in the UK are posted as a compressed ZIP file on Project SafeCom's website here:
"Serco is a company under a cloud, and Labor in persisting on the privatisation of refugee jails is once again manipulating its supporters, voters and adherents in backpeddling on its own confirmed party policy under which it promised that when elected it would return the running of immigration detention centres to the Australian public service."
"It is deplorable that the Immigration Minister, under pressure of the "jail-happy" agents in his Immigration department, is continuing a situation where he risks further human rights abuses and even detention deaths by wanting Serco to run Australian detention centres," Mr Smit concluded.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
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We, the people, need to know what goes on behind the prison fence
Sydney Morning Herald
April 10, 2009
Here we go again. Just when we think we have woken up to corporate shenanigans with the global financial crisis, and ditched plans to privatise NSW energy supplies and acknowledged that privatised road tolls place financial burdens on some drivers, jails become the subject of nonsensical ideas.
We will save money by outsourcing them, the politicians say.
Bulltwang. It will cost more, lead to less qualified staff and cutting every corner, including food and education for prisoners. Worse still, it will reduce accountability.
A senior lawyer in NSW who is among those most in touch with matters corrective, former judge David Levine, believes jails should not be privatised. "Jails should be an instrument of the state as part of the administration of justice," he said recently at the University of Sydney, as reported in the Herald.
What he could not say, due to legal and political constraints, was that governments should basically do their own dirty work.
Nobody likes the unpalatable fact that society must sometimes lock up individuals for the protection of the greater good. It has been a philosophical dilemma for centuries.
Not many people are willing to work in the human jungles we call jails. Fewer still are compassionate enough to provide genuine rehabilitation in what most people see as the garbage dumps of humanity. This has led to the political mantra that there are no votes in prisons. And it's probably true.
Eighteen years ago, as a crime reporter in Melbourne, I encountered a rare person - a senior warden in the prison system who cared, and tried to make life better for his charges. He leaked a report about what jails were really like. Many of his colleagues and bosses disagreed with his more humane approach. He left Australia.
When prison warders recently demonstrated against privatising Cessnock and Parklea jails, they seemed to share some of this concern. They are trained professionals who do the Government's dirty work, ranging from a shoulder to cry on to stopping a riot. It is not an easy job, but they know that if you stuff up, you are accountable to a government.
What happens if you are only accountable to a corporation that is worried about the bottom line?
Forget freedom-of-information access. Forget screening of staff, as sloppy as this may sometimes be in the government sector. Forget a coherent (if sometimes disjointed) approach to education and rehabilitation. It all comes down to bucks for the shareholders.
Few corporations are willing to do this sort of work. US giants like Wackenhut have a quasi-monopoly on privatised jails. Most of us would not want to do the job. We do not want to know the details, logistics or the finance, but this head-in-the-sand mentality benefits them.
We, as a society, have to take responsibility for locking up individuals. We have to try to lift prisoners from the dark places whence they came. Some will always be recidivists. But many will not.
I have recently moved from a professional to a personal stake in this argument. My sister was wrongly detained in a privatised jail in Baxter in 2004. Many people told me of unjust behaviours, but also of some caring guards in the system, so it is not all black-and-white.
However, now the new(ish) Federal Government wants to pass the contract for detention centres on to Serco, a British company once described in The Guardian as "probably the biggest company you've never heard of", which has grown with the privatisation of public services.
This is a potential minefield. The contract, due to be signed by June 30, is for five years. Money has not been specified, but the previous contractor, GSL, was paid $100 million a year for its efforts.
Serco was criticised in the British High Court after a 14-year-old boy under its care hanged himself in 2004. At another Serco site last year, mothers protested naked against the extended detention of children, many of them listed for deportation. Doncaster prison, a privatised Serco jail, was found to be so overcrowded that some prisoners had to sleep in the toilets.
This may be understandable in Britain, which has a far higher illegal immigration rate than Australia and is much more overcrowded. But here? Why are we giving this company the contract? And why is any government too scared to do its own dirty work?
Partly it is bureaucracy. A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said the tender for this decision was well advanced - from March 2006 - when Labor won government. Cancelling the process could have prompted compensation claims, the minister's office said. It also said supervision of contractors will be more effective than in the past.
But this leaves the question why a company with such a past cannot be ditched by a "new government with new values". Or why, more fundamentally, governments should privatise jails at all.
Senator Evans said "broader policy issues" of whether detention centres should be managed by public or private sectors will be considered after an "evaluation" at the end of the contracts now up for tender.
Maybe I am naive, but I would have thought it possible to evaluate contenders now. Why waste time, money or human suffering? At least it is open to debate until June 30.
Christine Rau is a freelance journalist, and sister of Cornelia Rau.