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Cell-by date up for private jails

By Jo-Marie Brown and NZPA
The New Zealand Herald
Feb. 03, 2003

The Government will phase out the private management of prisons.

Introducing a bill yesterday to overhaul the way jails are run, Acting Corrections Minister Margaret Wilson said managing prisons was a "core activity of the state".

The change will take effect from July 12, 2005, when the sole contract to run a prison, held by Australasian Correctional Management, expires for the Auckland Central Remand Prison.

"Prisons by their very nature involve the use of highly coercive powers against individuals," said Ms Wilson.

"The Government believes that it is inappropriate for private-sector organisations to wield such power."

The Corrections Department owns the Auckland Central jail and will take over the management.

Prison general manager Dom Karauria said he was extremely disappointed.

Private providers gave taxpayers a cheaper alternative while still ensuring a quality service, he said.

Mr Karauria found it difficult to comprehend why Ms Wilson felt his company, ACM, was wielding "highly coercive powers" when it was working in partnership with the Government.

"That could only happen if the contracts negotiated between the Government and the private provider allowed us to do that, and that's not the situation here at the moment."

The company had planned to submit tenders to run one or two of the new prisons being built round the country, but would now focus on gaining contracts to provide health services in jails.

"Whilst this is disappointing for us, it doesn't mean the end of ACM in New Zealand."

Mr Karauria expected that the company's 120 staff would be headhunted by the public sector.

ACM was told about the bill only 10 minutes before it was tabled in Parliament.

"We had no idea. We haven't been consulted in any way."

The Corrections Bill introduces a range of other changes, including more search powers in an attempt to stop drugs getting into prisons, as well as new regulations on the use of weapons, such as batons, by prison officers.

The bill is intended to update 1954 legislation that Ms Wilson said was outdated.

Prison changes

* No private companies running prisons.

* Enhanced powers of search in jails.

* Setting-up of regulations governing weapons used by prison officers. There is now a complete ban on tear gas, but no restrictions on batons.

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