Queensland government takes back control of privately run prisons

By Stephen Easton

Wednesday March 27, 2019

big large white and black sign on brick wall under new management; essex; england; uk

The Queensland government is putting public servants back in charge of all prisons, following a Crime and Corruption Commission inquiry that found problems in having a mix of public and private management.

The government suspended procurement processes for the privately run Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre and Southern Queensland Correctional Centre last July after receiving the CCC’s findings. Both will now come back under public control.

This will cost Queenslanders an extra $111 million over four years, “but the government takes the view that this investment is in the public interest” according to a statement.

The head of the corruption watchdog, Alan MacSporran, publicly reported there were “significant corruption risks in Queensland prisons” leading to misconduct that was not being prevented, detected or dealt with, when the  Taskforce Flaxton final report was released in December.

Overcrowding, the risk of exploitation of inmates with special needs, relationships between correctional officers and prisoners, and a lack of visibility into what goes on behind the locked doors of prisons were the general corruption risk factors in correctional facilities, identified by the CCC. “Privately operated prisons create challenges for the State in ensuring prisoners detained in these facilities are treated humanely and have appropriate access to programs and services,” added the report.

“The CCC also identified a number of corruption risks that were particularly evident. These included failure to report corruption, inappropriate relationships, excessive use of force, misuse of authority, introduction of contraband and misuse of information.”

The agency made 33 recommendations to improve the corrective services and strengthen oversight. “Ultimately, these reforms will improve safety for staff and prisoners, ensure decisions are ethical and impartial, enhance accountability and transparency, and raise performance standards,” MacSporran said.

In a statement yesterday, Minister for Police and Minister for Corrective Services Mark Ryan focused on staff safety, naming “the number of assaults on staff occurring in privately run prisons” as one of the government’s chief concerns after considering the CCC report.

The new model will increase total staffing levels and employees of the privately run correctional centres will be first in line for comparable jobs with the government agency, “subject to the usual vetting procedures” according to the minister.

Ryan said transferring the two prisons back to public service management would have other benefits as well, including stronger integrity in general.

“The government is of the view that the transfer to public operation will lead to improved staff safety,” he said. “Importantly, this decision aligns government policy with issues arising from Taskforce Flaxton.

“The Taskforce observed that Queensland’s hybrid prisons system, with its mix of private and public operational responsibility, was not optimal.

“The government believes by providing QCS with full operational and day-to-day management control of all prisons and all employees, the transition will strengthen corruption resistance in Queensland prisons and improve overall integrity.

“Planning is already underway, and there will be extensive consultation with the private providers, staffing groups, industrial representatives and service providers to ensure the delivery of safe and secure prison services during the transition.”

Simply returning to public management isn’t necessarily the answer to the issues explored by Taskforce Flaxton, which seem to be repeatedly found in correctional and detention facilities in many jurisdictions.

Western Australia’s attempts to deal with very similar problems over the years are a case in point: the government agencies have been unable to address them, according to years of investigative work by the WA Corruption and Crime Commission.

Last year, the WA watchdog reported the system was in crisis and called out a “disturbing failure to respond to recommendations” over many years on the part of the relevant agencies.

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