No to prison privatisations!

February 28, 2009

As the NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the privatisation of NSW prisons began on February 23, more than 200 prison officers went on strike at Goulburn Correctional Centre on February 25, in protest at the plan to privatise Parklea and Cessnock jails.

It was announced in last year's state mini-budget that the management and operations of these two jails would be contracted out. It was revealed this week that the new Grafton jail would also be privately operated.

NSW corrective services commissioner Ron Woodham told the inquiry on its opening day that the plan for the new privately run Grafton jail was at an advanced stage.

Yet corrective services minister John Robertson has contradicted Woodham by saying this week that only Parklea and Cessnock are to be privatised. Ironically, Robertson was a leader of the campaign against the privatisation of electricity in NSW when he was secretary of Unions NSW.

Prison officers have already taken industrial action several times to protest against the privatisation plans: Long Bay officers struck on February 4 and there was a state-wide 24-hour strike and rally at Parliament House on October 28 last year.

The criminal justice activist network, Justice Action, has supported industrial action by prison officers protesting the proposed sell-off last year, and with good reason.

In an October 28 statement, Justice Action spokesperson Brett Collins said that "prisoners generally agree that adding the profit motive to the horror of prisons is wrong … Only a morally corrupt government would invite overseas private corporations to make profit from our misery, to control citizens like slaves in cages."

In a privatised prison system, the focus is on the economic interest of companies to keep as many people incarcerated as possible, a further step away from a system based on rehabilitation and justice. Furthermore, in order to maximise profits, such companies will minimise the costs of running prisons, with consequent negative impacts on the living standards and dignity of prisoners.

Such further inhumane treatment of prisoners must be prevented by a victory of the campaign to stop the privatisations.

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