PSA warns of private sector secrecy at new Grafton jail
THE addition of 400 beds for the new Grafton prison would be cause for celebration except for one detail, the Public Service Association says.
The PSA's Steve McMahon has been campaigning hard for prison expansions as the state's correctional system reaches capacity, putting officers and inmates at risk of violence.
But he said the State Government's decision to have private contractors run the jail would funnel taxpayers' money offshore without improving safety.
He pointed to Sydney's privately operated Parklea Correctional Centre, where a prison officer narrowly escaped serious injury or death when as many as 40 inmates rioted last month January.
"The motivation behind private enterprise is clear - it's about returning a profit to shareholders," he said.
"They do that by running jails with reduced staff.
"With the international corporations that run prisons, 100% of profit leaves the state and indeed the country to benefit the parent company and shareholders."
The new Grafton jail will cater for 1000 inmates when it opens in late 2019.
Corrections Minister David Elliott said it would aim to bring down recidivism through rehabilitation programs, while creating hundreds of local jobs.
"The new Grafton Correctional Centre is part of the NSW Government's plan to cater for the rising inmate population and will have a focus on reducing the risk of re-offending by carefully preparing inmates for re-integration back into the community," he said.
"The NSW Government has issued an expression of interest from the private sector to design, build and operate the new facility in Grafton, delivering at least 250 ongoing jobs and investment for the local community as well as boosting prison capacity.
"Where possible, local products and services will be used and there will be enormous economic benefits from staff who are working at the new prison.
"NSW has had privately-run prisons at Junee and Parklea for many years.
"Having a mix of public and private prisons creates an opportunity for improved performance, ensures high standards, innovation and value for money."
Mr McMahon doubted the claims private contractors would be better at reducing re-offending rates.
"I believe there is evidence of the opposite, that they don't invest the resources into reducing recidivism that we do in the public system," he said.
"Rehabilitation programs are marginally more expensive.
"On face value it looks great - they're building a 1000-plus bed facility there.
"If we had about 100 staff previously employed there (before the former prison closed) you might think triple the inmates means triple the staff.
"That's just not the case. Parklea is approaching 900 inmates and we ran it with just over 100 officers.
"Now they're running it with between 60 and 80."
Mr McMahon said information about workers being injured on the job was doubly hard to come by in the private sector.
"I have continually challenged the minister and the government to break down the barrier of commercial in confidence, to let the NSW taxpayers know what they're paying for," he said.