(en) Doing private time

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Thu, 4 Dec 1997 20:31:28 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Thu, 4 Dec 1997 18:02:59 -0800 (PST) From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org> Subject: privatization

The thought behind this post is based on present moves to privatization coming from overwhelming public distrust of government (pushed by private orgs..) At least it should be recognized that private orgs are also to be distrusted - what protects private orgs is not that they are - on the whole - more trustworthy than public bodies, but that their acts/ decisions are not open to public examination.

The only way sure to find that the XXX corp. damages your environment is to wait until the damage is done. MichaelP

================================================= SF Bay Guardian December 3, 1997


Doing private time

By Daniel Burton-Rose

IN LATE 1996 several guards at the Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre at Deer Park outside Melbourne, Australia, staged a small mutiny. They refused to follow orders after other guards hog-tied a prisoner facedown with a belt for resisting transfer to a special "management" unit elsewhere in the prison.

The management unit was unpopular among prisoners because of the guards' reputed propensity for brutality, according to Melbourne newspaper the Age. Many prison guards also believed that the new prison was unsafe, because it was understaffed and filled beyond capacity.

Deer Park is a new private prison, run by Corrections Corporation of Australia (CC Australia), a joint venture owned primarily by the Corrections Corporation of America, the world's largest for-profit prison company. It is also the only private women's prison outside the United States. Deer Park has been the focus of heated public debate since it opened in August 1996 to replace the state-run Fairlea women's prison. When Fairlea was near closure in May 1996, 2,500 demonstrators surrounded the prison to protest the shift from public to private.

Amanda George, a representative of the Victoria-based Women and Imprisonment Group, who spoke at the Fairlea protest, said that privatization of Australia's prisons would create a plethora of problems for prisoners and their advocates in the country.

For example, she said, the private prison is not subject to Australian freedom-of-information statutes, so the public could be barred from learning crucial information about prison life. This spring, Age freedom-of-information requests regarding Deer Park were denied by the Australian government on the grounds that the information would "expose CC Australia to disadvantage," according to a report published in the Age in March 1997.

Not only will privatization limit oversight of the prisons, George said, it will also limit the public's ability to speak out on prisoners rights issues. Because Deer Park is a private business entity, citizens who make allegations of prisoner abuse in the facility could technically be prosecuted for libel, as the allegations could damage the company's reputation.

Chilling free speech

The prospect of such a suit is chilling to activists.

"Making profit the imperative of imprisonment has already jeopardized our freedom of speech about what happens to you inside," George said at the Fairlea protest, addressing the women inside the prison's walls.

The problems posed by prison privatization in Australia are not unique to Deer Park. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Australia's prisons are privatized, according to Charles Thomas, director of the University of Florida at Gainesville's Private Corrections Project, an information clearinghouse funded by the prison industry. And, he said, Australia is not the only country pursuing the private-prison route.

"I think what we're going to see is a significant increase both in the number of companies that are participating in the international [private prison] scene and most assuredly the volume of business possibilities on the international scene," Thomas told the Bay Guardian.

Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company largely responsible for the move toward prison privatization in the United States, has already entered the international market. With nearly 42,000 beds in more than 33 penitentiaries in the United States and Puerto Rico alone in 1996 -- and plans to buy or build 18,000 more -- the company is the most successful for-profit prison operator domestically. CC America controls more than 52 percent of the domestic private-prison market and 16 percent of the foreign market, giving it a total of nearly 49 percent of the private-prison market worldwide, according to a Private Corrections Project census released in March 1997.

In fact, things are looking so good for CC America, company spokesperson Susan Hart told the Bay Guardian, that it is actively pursuing contracts on five continents.

CC America is owned by Massey Burch, the same Nashville, Tenn.-based empire that owns the KFC chain. English commentators Jolyon Jenkins and J. Robert Lilly, amused by that fact, wrote in March 1993 in Britain's New Statesman and Society magazine: "Just as Colonel Sanders made his money by selling exactly the same food across the world, so the Corrections Corporation of America has a standard product, which it hawks from continent to continent."

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a subsidiary of Wackenhut security services corporation, which operates out of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is the other major international player. Controlling a quarter of the U.S. private-prison market -- nearly 20,000 beds -- and just under 3,000 beds in other countries, Wackenhut is a leader in the international market, company spokesperson Pat Cannan told the Bay Guardian.

The company's global revenue for 1996 was $139 million, $30 million of which came from operations abroad; the company's net profit after tax exceeded $8 million, according to May 1997's Prison Privatisation Report International. Wackenhut runs three of Australia's seven private prisons through its subsidiary Australian Correctional Management (ACM); CC Australia runs two. ACM has been contracted to run Victoria's prison health services and immigration-department detention facilities throughout the country. There are rumors that juvenile penal facilities will follow.

Australia's private nightmare

Without citizen or media access to its prisons, CC Australia seems to have free reign. CC Australia's contract with the government has not been released to the public; the Age reports that the agreement probably stipulates that CC Australia is to be fined after a certain number of serious incidents of abuse take place. According to the March 1997 Age report, Deer Park administrators have avoided paying fines by downplaying the occurrence of guard assaults and drug-related incidents. Administrators have instead been classifying many such incidents as "actions contrary to the security and good order" of the prison, according to the Age.

From architectural design to management attitudes and PR spin, many of the elements of Australia's private prisons are transplants from the U.S. experience. Wackenhut literature, for example, states that, in the development of its Junee Correctional Centre in New South Wales, "Wackenhut was able to draw upon the design, staffing, and operational efficiencies [that] were developed in United States contracts."

Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, a revolutionary black anarchist, recently experienced life in Australia's private detention services when he was arrested several days into a speaking tour in Australia (sponsored by Australian anarchist group Angry People) for being a member of a terrorist organization -- the Black Panther Party. From July 8 to 11 he was held in the Sir Arthur Gorrie Detention Centre in Wacol, Queensland, a Wackenhut-owned and -operated prison. He was released after the High Court ruled that he had been denied his "natural justice."

"In that facility I was beaten and my face was slammed against the wall," he said during a speech at Colorado College in Colorado Springs in November. "I was then dragged to another part of the prison a quarter-mile away."

Ervin said the prison was strikingly similar to the U.S. federal control unit in Marion, Ill., where he served five years for air piracy and kidnapping stemming from his involvement in a 1969 hijacking. Ervin says his experience "has shown me how [the United States] has exported its techniques of repression to countries all over the world."

Daniel Burton-Rose is the coeditor of The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry, which will be released by Common Courage Press this spring.

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