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Shape Up Or Else, Prison Operator Told

By Richard Baker
State Political Reporter
October 23, 2003

The State Government yesterday warned the private operator of Port Phillip Prison that its contract could be terminated if it did not immediately fix several security issues.

Corrections Minister Andre Haermeyer served Group 4 Securitas with a default notice, saying it had failed to deal with 24 out of the 39 security obligations identified in a review earlier this year.

Group 4 has been given two weeks to present a "cure plan" to Corrections Victoria to demonstrate how it would fix security and honour its contractual obligations.

If it fails to come up with a satisfactory plan, it could lose its contract or face financial penalties. The Government could also sue for compensation.

Ten per cent of Group 4's performance-linked fee had been held back in relation to a health service requirement in the past year.

"The operator is basically on notice," Mr Haermeyer said. "This is not something we are going to give them a great deal of time to remedy."

In 2000, the Government took control of the women's prison at Deer Park after the private operator was deemed to have failed its contractual responsibilities after repeated security and drug breaches.

The Group 4 default notice comes after a search of the maximum security prison, at Laverton, on May 7 revealed a small handgun loaded with five bullets, a mobile phone and a large stash of drugs. Another search the next day uncovered more mobile phones and a digital camera.

Corrections Commissioner Kelvin Anderson said yesterday he could not rule out guards at the prison being responsible for contraband in the jail.

There was another security breach in August when a prisoner could not be found for more than seven hours.

The decision to issue a default notice was made after Group 4 was found to have rectified only 15 out of 39 issues identified in a review after the May security breaches.

Group 4 said in a statement yesterday that it acknowledged the seriousness of the incidents. Security had been enhanced and would be tightened further.

Group 4 said it had improved human security at the prison and was looking at ways to boost electronic security to help detect contraband.

The company was awarded a 20-year contract to build, own and operate the prison by the Kennett government in 1997. It was issued with a default notice in 1998 after a riot.

In its first year of operation, nine inmates died. The State Coroner found that Group 4 and the Victorian Government had contributed to the suicide deaths of four men because Group 4 failed to provide a safe physical environment.

Neither Group 4 nor the Government would disclose the value of the prison contract.

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