Being incarcerated is a serious penalty and although it is intended to act as a deterrent to crime, statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology have shown that there is a strong rate of reoffending by inmates after they have been released from prison.
According to the figures, approximately 46% of non-Aboriginal and 74% of Aboriginal inmates are in custody for the second or subsequent time.
Most prisons in Australia are run by state governments, but there are a growing number that are being privatised and run by outside companies.
Australia is now believed to have the highest percentage of prisoners in privately-run facilities of any country in the world.
19% of Australian inmates are currently residing in privately-run prisons compared to 17% in Scotland and 11% in New Zealand.
This is an increase of 95% over the previous 15 years.
The privatisation of prisons has raised a number of legal and ethical concerns by legal and human rights organisations.
Is it acceptable to run a prison for profit, and how can this be achieved without infringing on prisoner rights?
The model of having prisons for profit depends on mass incarceration and ever increasing prisoner numbers for sustainability and growth.
Concerns have also been raised that prisons run by private companies like Serco encourage reoffending, and don’t offer enough support to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for release back into the community.
There are also concerns that global prison privatisation companies have the financial resources and potential influence to pressure governments to protect their interests by implementing harsh legislation and penalties.
Who is Serco?
Serco is a UK-based organisation that runs a number of institutions in the UK and across Australia.
Most commonly known for its on and offshore immigration detention centres, Serco also runs two prisons in Australia, one in WA and one in Queensland.
Other privatised prisons are run by two main companies, G4S and GEO.
These two companies, along with Serco, dominate the privatised prison industry across the globe, with the exception of the US.
The prison privatisation companies claim to be able to reduce the cost of housing inmates through innovation and good business practices, but productivity reports have indicated that they aren’t any cheaper to the taxpayer than government-run prisons, and that in spite of the additional costs involved, they don’t appear to be producing any noticeable benefit to the community and rates of recidivism as a whole.
Is there a link between privatisation and high recidivism?
Given the basic conflict of interest between prisons run for profit and low rates of incarceration it would not be surprising to find that prison privatisation companies like Serco wouldn’t be going out of their way to reduce the numbers of offenders in their prisons.
In Victoria, which has the highest percentage of prisoners in private prisons anywhere in Australia and possibly in the world, expenditure on prisons has increased 18% over recent years and the prison population throughout Australia is believed to have tripled since privatisation of prisons started.
In the US, where prison privatisation is widespread, there have been many concerns voiced by religious groups and human rights advocates around the fact that private prisons can be seen to encourage recidivism and have even been found lobbying the government for harsh penalties and against decriminalisation of certain offences.
Unfortunately, as in Australia, many of the inmates in private prisons in the US originate from the most disadvantaged groups in society, including poor and Indigenous people, which means that they are likely to be further disadvantaged by lack of support and access to rehabilitation programs.
With recidivism rates as high at 74% among Aboriginal prisoners in Australia, it is clear that further support is needed to reduce reoffending and help keep the prison population lower instead of increasing year by year.
Whether or not it really does encourage reoffending, prison privatisation is looking set to continue in the future and there have also been discussions around the possibility of privatising prisoner rehabilitation programs and other support services.