WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Catholic agencies concerned over private prisons bill

Privately run prisons pose a greater risk of prisoner abuse and may put less effort into rehabilitation as the profit motive takes over. That is the view of the Catholic social justice agency Caritas and the Wellington Commission for Justice, Peace and Development (JPD).

The Wellington JPD Commission said in a submission to Parliament last month on the Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment it was concerned for society’s lack of support for offenders and also believed that the issues as to why they offend and sometimes reoffend needs investigation.

‘The JPD Commission urges the Law and Order Select Committee to thoroughly consider whether and how the privatisation of prisons will reduce costs,’ the Commission said.
The new legislation, if implemented, will blur accountability if a prisoner is treated violently. Nor does the legislation solve the issue of how to rehabilitate offenders.

Privately run prisons elsewhere have been found to lack incentives to encourage community sentences or early release. In fact, empty beds are seen as a loss on the company’s balance sheets.

In its submission, Caritas called for new ways to work with sections of the community, for example Maori iwi and hapu. New programmes need to be developed that involve the care, rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, both before and after their release.

Caritas is also concerned about accountability. ‘At present, any abuse of prisoners is clearly and solely the responsibility of the State. We fear that the waters will become unnecessarily muddied if abuse of prisoners is reduced to an argument between State and private prison management about whether contractual obligations were fulfilled, and the prisoner will be the loser,’ says Caritas director Michael Smith.

Caritas pointed to a Ministry of Justice note that the United Nations Human Rights Committee had expressed concerns in 2002 about private prisons and that the State was responsible for protecting the rights of people deprived of their liberty.

A United Nations Universal Periodic Review Process also said recently in regard to private prisons that the government must remember the need to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners.