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Australia: For-profit jail a failure.
Private jail a failure, says report

By Ben Martin

IN ANOTHER embarrassment for WA's justice system, the private Acacia prison designed to rehabilitate prisoners and make them repay the cost of their sentences has failed on both counts.

The Justice Department's annual report on the $22 million-a-year jail at Wooroloo found prisoners had been accidentally freed, drug use was rife, few prisoners were employed and staff were inexperienced.

The previous coalition government said the private prison regime would put inmates to work to repay some of the cost of their imprisonment.

Contracts would be signed with companies that required cheap labour and prisoners would do jobs such as processing vegetables in small factories in the prison. The proceeds would go to running the prison.

But the report, tabled in the Legislative Assembly, shows that at no time in the past year were enough prisoners employed to meet standards set by the Government.

It also shows the prison did not provide enough work for prisoners to fulfil its contract with the Government.

The Justice Department withheld performance payments worth more than $356,000 from the management company, AIMS.

The report also shows four inmates were released accidentally.

One in 12 prisoners tested positive in random drug tests. Drugs were smuggled past sniffer dogs and missed in random body searches of visitors. Drugs were rife after family contact visits.

The report found 90 per cent of Acacia staff had no experience in the justice system and they suffered under poor senior management.

There was a two-day strike by disgruntled workers who wanted better pay and conditions.

The West Australian understands AIMS recruited inexperienced people because they would not have picked up bad habits from working elsewhere in the prison system.

In October 2000, a Justice Department official said he was confident Acacia would not have the same prisoner rehabilitation problems as Victorian prisons run by AIMS.

Drug use was rife in the Victorian prison system, which also was racked by industrial strife.

Justice Minister Michelle Roberts condemned the performance of Acacia and said it was an example that privatisation did not always provide the best results.

In question time in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, shadow police minister Matt Birney said Labor had been in power for two years but had failed to fix the problems.

Mrs Roberts said some changes already had been implemented.

AIMS officials were not available for comment.

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