So what is the rationale for private prisons?



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On 14 December, 2010, there was great excitement and jubilation  in the Beehive when then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins announced;

This Government is committed to a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise.

The appointment of Serco as the contract manager for Mt Eden/ACRP will bring in new ideas and international best practice which will benefit the entire corrections sector.

Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons. I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.”

(Acknowledgement: TV3 The Nation and  )

The rational for the gradual privatisation of our prisons – traditionally the responsibility of the State – was to provide “ a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand“; to “bring in new ideas and international best practice“, and implement “high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security“.

According to National/ACT ideology, Private is better.

On 21 July, nearly five years after Collins’ gushing endorsement of Serco, Labour’s Kelvin Davis revealed to the country a series of events at Mt Eden – nominally under the “control” of Serco;

Speaking first in the heated debate, Mr Davis claims that Mt Eden prisoners with severe injuries had been transferred to public prisons so that the cases did not show up in Serco’s assault statistics.

He told a story of a prisoner named only as Evans who arrived at Ngawha prison in Northland with a punctured lung.

“He was in such bad shape that almost immediately the guards at Ngawha transferred him to Whangarei Hospital where he subsequently passed away,” Mr Davis said.

Since then, we have seen video-clips on social media showing fight-clubs and drug-taking, as well as  stories of extortion, “dropping”, rape, etc, etc. Mt Eden prison is so badly run that the Corrections Dept will take control of the facility today (27 July).

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Not since the collapse of Air New Zealand, and hasty re-nationalisation by the Clark-led Labour government in October 2001, has the State had to step in to salvage an organisation from mis-management and chaos.

Since then, our esteemed Prime Minister has made several statements, attempting to minimise the violence and drug-taking at Mt Eden;

And so the point will be, I think what it will show is on reported instances , that SERCO ‘s about consistant with the others [prisons]… as far as sexual assaults and violent assaults, I think you’ll see Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons.” – TVNZ Q+A, @ 2.50


Mr Key defended National’s prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails. – NZ Herald

Now here’s the salient point which our esteemed Prime Minister, Judith Collins, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, and other National MPs and Ministers might care to ponder:

1. If, as Key, et al, assert, that “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons” – then what is the point of privatisation of prison services if private providers are no different to State administration?

2. Why are we, the tax-payer, paying huge profits to a company like Serco, if “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons“? What, exactly, are we paying for?

3. If Private Prividers are no better than the State at running correctional facilities – why not cut out the “middle man” (Serco), and simply invest the profit that would have gone to the corporation, for more drug rehabilitation; literacy courses; skills training; and comprehensive re-integration into society?

Because if there is no difference to the Private or State management of our prisons, then giving hundreds of millions of tax-dollars to Serco makes no sense.

None whatsoever.






One of the claims that had been made, I think, was that someone had been thrown off a balcony – in fact, actually, Serco say that the person jumped off the balcony, or tripped, or fell.” – John Key, 23 July 2015

Really, Mr Key?

So the prisoner picked himself up and threw himself over the balcony, for no apparent reason? Or “tripped”? Or “fell”?

I am reminded of the tragic fate of many anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, during the apartheid years;

More than 100 other people suspected of anti-apartheid activities died in security police custody in South Africa and tribal homelands. In some cases, authorities said the suspects died of natural causes, however implausible. A larger number were reported to have hanged themselves. Others “fell down stairs” and died. Or fell out of windows and died. Or were “injured in scuffles.” Or “fell in shower.” Except for Dr. Neil Aggett, a 29-year-old physician who became a trade union official, all the dead detainees were black.

What say you now, Mr Key?







References Mt Eden/ACRP contract manager announced

NZ Herald:MP: ‘Ill’ prisoner died after ‘dropping’

National Business Review: Corrections snatches Mt Eden Prison back from Serco

World Socialist Website: Another airline crisis—the case of Air New Zealand

TVNZ Q+A: TPP and National Party’s future – PM

NZ Herald: Serco hauled before minister

Fairfax media: Corrections Minister looking at options for Serco-run prisons after allegations of ill-treatment

Baltimore Sun: Biko and the goons of state security Power – The reopened case of Steve Biko

Previous related blogposts

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga








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  1. Jumped tripped or fell.

    Who is Key talking to? No one could possibly believe that, the audacity of it is outrageous. Richard III tried the same thing (bullsh!tting in public and expecting everyone to play along) and look what happened to him.

    BTW – If someone “tripped” or “fell” off my house’s balcony, I would get prosecuted severely by the state. There’s a minimum standard of building safety, after all.

    • It seems like the Headhunters gang are bearing the brunt of payback for embarrassing the govt about Serco-run prisons. Putting up fights on Youtube certainly opened up a can of utu-whoopass that could have been being held back for later to show the govt taking a ‘hard line’ on crime.

      Hell hath no fury like a govt made to look bad 2 years out from an election, especially when they can’t put Crusher back in charge, for fear of giving her leadership aspirations beyond her station.

  2. Thanks Frank, another good post.

    Profit driven privatization of state services does not work in the best interests of the people being served, regardless of the service!

    Keep greedy corporations out of our public services!

    The biggest shame in the Nick Evans case is this. Either way, if he tripped, fell or was thrown off a balcony in Serco’s Mt Eden remand correctional facility, he was severely injured. Yet, as far as I am aware, despite this fact, Mr Evans did not receive appropriate medical treatment. Instead he was transported to Ngawha prison in Northland, out of sight, out of mind, as far away from Mt Eden as possible, obviously so as to not taint Serco’s already poor record!


    As we now know, Mr Evans was to die in Whangarei hospital later.

    Maybe the outcome might have been different if he had received prompt medical attention while in Auckland, which was his right, he would still be alive. The very service being paid to protect Mr Evans and keep him safe failed him completely!

    Serco and Corrections Minister Sam Lotu Iiga are fully responsible here! The minister was aware of the Evans issue, yet failed to act accordingly, within a reasonable time frame! He totally ignored what had happened, until questioned about it last week in Parliament by Kelvin Davis, some time after Mr Evans’ death! It was the first I had heard of it.

    It does make me wonder if Lotu Iiga was told to keep this issue under wraps, in yet another cover up to protect NatzKEY!

    In my mind, joint manslaughter charges at the very least, should be brought against the corporation, the incompetent minister, the negligent government, in particular the PM where the buck stops, who appointed Lotu Iiga to the position! If it was left to me, I’d charge the whole damn lot of them with murder!

    In a decent society, there would be resignations from those responsible here. But this is NatzKEY we are talking about, so I think hell will freeze over first, before any accountability is acknowledged! Disgraceful!

  3. So what is the rationale for private prisons?

    Answer, – money money money, – they follow the “Filthy almighty buck” like it was God the fools.

  4. I’ve heard stories from inside that, for obvious reasons, must remain anonymous. However, they include nurses being called into prisons to deal with injuries and having 24 year old inmates – in for minor crimes, I might add – crying into her lap, saying how scared he was because other inmates said they were going to ‘get him’. What that means, he wouldn’t elaborate on. He told this nurse that he was going to hang himself that evening with his sheets. She immediately approached a guard and said sort of ‘hey, you need to get this guy out here and keep him safe and look into this – who is doing this to him? they have to be stopped’. The guard plainly told her to fuck off, and how dare she tell him what to do. She said that if anything happened, she would make sure it came back to him.

    This did not take place in Mt. Eden, in fact it was out of the Auckland region. But what it illustrates is that across the board, our prisons are not being run properly. There is no emphasis on or evidence of rehabilitation. Prisoners are not even separated in any logical manner. So a young guy, like that 24 year old, lands himself in prison for a bit of pot possession and suddenly he is exposed to hardened, violent criminals who subject him to violence and abuse that is actually HUGELY traumatic. So our penal system, rather than rehabilitate this man, has allowed him to be traumatized. How is this guy supposed to emerge from prison a better man than he went in? What is being done to educate this guy and give him access to some opportunities to develop himself and make a meaningful life? None. In fact, he is not even being kept safe.

    Another story through the same source involved a prisoner obtaining a razor blade and cutting himself through to the bone in order to try and get out of the environment he was in. It became apparent that this man was being repeatedly raped whilst serving his time.

    This just isn’t good enough. I’m involved with a small organization called Keep On, Keepin’ On. We’re working to try and get more done in this country for suicide prevention, because currently nowhere near enough is being done.

    What I find most disgusting, is that at a time when more than 500 deaths are being reported as suicide (and many don’t get recorded properly, by the way, the real figure is potentially thousands higher annually), people within our corrections facilities are having their well-being so badly violated that they are becoming a suicide risk.

    Disgusting. Something needs to be done about this.

  5. I think we can agree that both public and private prisons need major improvements to bring them into the 21st century. We need to analyse the purpose of incarceration and how best to achieve and maintain that purpose.
    Nothing suggests that the private sector is any better equipped to conduct that research, particularly because the choice of purpose is essentially the exclusive domain of the collective. Furthermore, because the research needed to ascertain the best way to get the desired results, will likely require fairly deep pockets, private sector involvement at any point is actually counter-indicated.

    But way before that we come to the philosophical underpinning of emprisonment. In my view, removing a member of the community’s right to habeus corpus should never be done lightly. So draconian a step is uniquely the right and responsibility of the community by agreed principle of law. To sell it to the lowest bidder is an outrageous abdication of our collective responsibility.

  6. I wonder if it’s time to stop compartmentalizing what’s happening.

    Let’s take Serco out of its box. John Key has been talking about other privatizations but no box yet. Take the GCSB cyber surveillance out of its box. Now take the secretive TPP out of that box. Found another box labelled Review of New Zealand – Australia Defence Relationship. Mix the whole lot together.

    Put all the above into a box labelled the national debt.

    What is the rationale for any of the above … money controlled by power. Or more accurately, perhaps, a country controlled by the money changers.

    • Senior moment: Forgot Flag change (another box) and possibly name change with cricketers wearing “Aotearoa” on shirts but no box yet. The money changers are fascinated with triangles and symbolism. Wonder if lots of triangles will be on our flag. Gareth Morgan has them on his flag of choice.

  7. Oh yes…..Mad Max and the Thunderdome.

    At least they had an excuse for why that was so in a post nuclear war barbaric society…

    Whereas the neo liberal agenda of Premier Kee and his lieutenants is simply one of ongoing acts of treason – the selling off of this country by increments.

    And this is the end product of that agenda.

  8. Two points –

    If the inmate tripped & fell off a high balcony, why was the railing not high enough to prevent this in the first place?

    & if we sign the tppa in the next few days as has been mooted, we wont be able to sack SERCO without being sued….

  9. Public research universities and private schools, by contrast, need to figure out how to get their spending under control, and — in the case of non-research private schools — boost non-tuition revenue.

    • Tyree – specifically what spending do they “need to get under control”? Without detailing the problem (if any), your comment is little more than parrotting slogans. It would help is you offered concrete examples.

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