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New Zealand: Editorial praising end of for-profits.
End of private prisons a step closer
02 April 2003

The end of private management of prisons came a step closer today when legislation to bring that about passed its first reading. The Corrections Bill updates 1954 legislation by overhauling legislation governing prisons. It covers the administration of community-based sentences and orders, as well as prison administration.

As well, it will end the former National government's pilot of private management of prisons. That change will take effect from July 2005 the expiry date of the contract to run the Auckland Central Remand Prison by a private company.

Acting corrections minister Margaret Wilson said that prison would continue to operate "much as it does now" but under Corrections Department management.

"This reflects this Government's view that the management of prisons is a core activity of the State ... and that it is inappropriate for private sector organisations to exercise such powers," she said.

Reform of the current law was needed to reflect modern conditions and practices in prisons; the 1954 legislation envisaged small units controlled by a superintendent but that was no longer possible.

"This was realistic in 1954, when Mt Eden was the only prison to have over 200 inmates, but prisons are now much larger," Ms Wilson said.

Under the new bill, the department's chief executive would have legal custody of all prisoners except those held in prisons in police jails.

"This is administratively simpler than the current arrangements whereby prisoners are in the legal custody of the prison superintendent," she said.

"It also reinforces the point that the chief executive is accountable for ensuring the safe, secure and humane containment of prisoners throughout the country."

Other changes proposed in the bill include: enhanced power of search in prisons;

setting up of regulations governing the use of non-lethal weapons (such as tear gas and batons) in prisons. Currently there is a complete ban on tear gas, but no restrictions on batons;

requiring the Corrections Department to have "management plans" for each prisoner, including rehabilitation plans where needed and possible; and extending prisoners' minimum entitlements to meet international standards.

"Overall, I consider that this bill will provide a sound legislative framework for the corrections system well into the 21st century," Ms Wilson said.

But National MP Tony Ryall said it was "Labour ideology meets bureaucratic envy"; the liberals in the cabinet did not believe private enterprise should be involved in managing prisons and the bureaucratic leg did not want private prisons showing up the inadequacies of the public prison service.

"The fact is the public prisons are failing in every benchmark that we would expect of a sensible prison service," he said.

"What is the worst feature of this bill is that the Government plans to cancel the private management of prisons in New Zealand and it simply does not make sense because the Auckland Central Remand Prison the only private prison we have in New Zealand is better than the public service on price, quality, assessment, violence and cultural grounds.

"It is just not common sense to support the abolition of private prisons in New Zealand."

United Future MP Marc Alexander said his party supported the bill but had some grave concerns.

"United Future strongly objects to the proposal to end and remove the ability to contract out prison management," he said.

"This will be a very grave stumbling block for our future approval. We believe the private-public management of prisons requires further deliberation."

ACT joined National in opposing the bill but all other parties supported it. It passed its first reading 81 to 35 and will be considered by Parliament's law and order committee.

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