Locked up, locked down, looked over!
Hidden deep in the lush, rural and rugged bush land of the Lockyer Valley resides an enigma of an estate. A fortress encumbered with the responsibility of correcting society’s unfortunates. Housing various types of men from various types of backgrounds, some are drug addicts, while others are violent offenders, there are those guilty of fraud and organised crime, and even murder. They are all there to be punished for crimes committed against the state, to hopefully learn from their mistakes.
Welcome to Southern Queensland Correctional Centre, the $400 million super prison located in Gatton. The SQCC is just one of Queensland’s privately run prisons, within these razor sharp walls you will discover a mixture of hardened crims and many re-offenders serving lengthy sentences. The prison currently consists of 300 cells, with hopes to one day expand enough to house up to 3,500 prisoners.
Reports of overcrowding have plagued the prison since opening in 2011. Currently the SQCC is accommodating at least 350 inmates. The Brisbane Times recently drew attention to the fact prisoners had been sleeping in trundle and make shift beds, within the common areas throughout the prison.
News.com wrote an article with similar concerns in 2012, when former Shadow Corrective Services Minister Bill Byrne says, “the overcrowding of Southern Queensland Correctional Centre is a risk to the safety of prison officers.”
The SQCC is not the only privatised prison to voice concerns over management and safety concerns. This year alone has seen a number of violent attacks directed towards prison guards, which needed added government assistance. According to Griffith University Assistant Lecturer in both the media and criminology departments, Anne Ferguson, many incidents go without being reported. Anne’s opinion on privatization
The overcrowding became prevalent after the Campbell Newman administration put their cost cutting regime into effect. The allure of contracting out management of prisons lies within the costs, with privatisation being reported as 10% cheaper to operate. This is because there are generally fewer staff per prisoner.
The Newman government is now considering privatising all Queensland prisons, starting with Lotus Glen in the state’s far north. The debate between state and private sectors running prisons has been argued amongst politicians and academics for decades. At a very general level there is a basic conflict between the interests of society and the contractors who manage the prison. As a society we ultimately aim to minimise the number of people incarcerated in prisons. Though the financial interests of private prison operators is maximising the number of prisons and prisoners, as well as the length of sentences.
The Serco Group is the private contractor governed to operate and manage the SQCC facility. According to the companies opaque financial statements Serco Australia Pty Ltd enjoyed a rise in net profit from $49 million to $128 million last year, making the business of incarceration a very profitable one. The United Kingdom department of Serco is currently under investigation for the mismanagement of funds.
According to a 1993 government inquiry titled, the Economic Aspects of Prison Privatisation: The Queensland Experience, various issues with the privatisation of prisons were expressed.There are varying problems associated with the state contracting out prison management. The management of prisons, and the functions of prison officers, cannot be reduced to the carrying out of mere administrative or routine tasks. By its very nature, the operation of prisons involves the exercise of coercion by one group of people over another. Another fundamental ideological difficulty with the privatisation of prisons relates to the premise that the setting and enforcing of the laws of society are inherently and essentially functions of the state, and that incarceration of offenders is an integral part of the legal process. It is even conceivable that an unscrupulous corrections entrepreneur would perversely rig parole recommendations to release prisoners who are troublesome, dangerous, sickly, or otherwise expensive to detain, while holding on to the more profitable inmates.
With the issue of privatisation creeping into the political front of Queensland’s economic debate, the moral consciousness and state responsibility should not be forgotten for the sake of a few bucks.
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