WA should follow U.S. lead and dump private prisons

The WA Prison Officers Union has called on the State Government to follow the lead of the US Justice Department, which is phasing out the use of privately run prisons.

The Justice Department has announced its contracts with 13 private prisons will be allowed to expire, after it concluded that the prisons did not save substantially on costs and did not maintain the same level of safety and security as public facilities.

WA Prison Officers’ Union Secretary John Welch said the union had been raising concerns about the WA government’s prison privatisation agenda for some time.

“Our main concern with private companies running prisons is that private companies need to make a profit, and in order to do that, they need to cut corners in other areas like staffing, programs and security,” he said.

“We have had ongoing concerns about WA’s biggest private prison, Acacia, which is run with very low staffing levels to save money, which we believe puts the safety of our members at risk.”

Mr Welch said the union believed private prisons were also not held to the same level of accountability as public prisons, and were not required to be as transparent.

“Private companies and the government often hide behind their mantra of ‘commercial in confidence’ when they’re asked about issues that relate to their contracts,” he said.

“The Inspector of Custodial Services released a report last week which critisised the Department of Corrective Services for its serious lack of financial accountability when it comes to prison running costs.

“The Inspector found that the government “simply does not know if Acacia provides good value for money, because the total cost of running the prison is unknown.”’

The report found that while the cost of the contract for Acacia was publicly available, the Department had “repeatedly failed to provide a robust estimate of additional overhead costs associated with the contract.”

Mr Welch said the Inspector’s report highlighted that the government had no hard evidence to suggest that privately run prisons were cheaper, and he believed the government was simply continuing down the privatisation path because of an ideological position.