On March 11th, 2014, the private prison manager GEO implemented a new policy that crams three young male prisoners into two person cells the size of a bathroom for 18 hours a day. This prompted the outraged prisoners to petition for an open Inquiry into its effects, who decided it, after what research and consultation, and to stop it pending the Inquiry. They said “A loophole has been found by GEO's legal branch enabling GEO to bypass existing laws… The beds are being installed purely for profit.”
The petition from 100 prisoners addressed their concerns with respect to the prison overcrowding - the personal damage and consequent interprisoner violence. Signing the petition attached, shows the prisoners' desperation, leaving them at risk of an extended sentence and with fears of retribution.
Their petition has now been passed to the Minister for Justice Greg Smith, the NSW Ombudsman, Pieter Bezuidenhout the Managing Director of GEO Group Australia, and the Commissioner of Corrective Services by Justice Action on March 27th, 2014. This issue has also been forwarded to two parliamentarians the Shadow Justice Minister Paul Lynch and Greens Spokesperson David Shoebridge for intervention in State Parliament. This highlights the importance of the battle against privatisation of Parklea in 2009. Increasing profit from more crime is wrong.
Increased Prison Population
The Parklea prison cramming highlights the increased prison population in NSW from 10,000 to 10,900 in a seven month period. The recent controversial closure of Grafton jail has reduced the availability of prison cells to accommodate prisoners. Subsequently, more prisoners are being packed into cells to the severe detriment of the individuals' well-being. It is like deliberately stirring trouble, or not caring about the consequences when they are released and try to resettle.
Prison Privatization by GEO
There is significant profit to be gained from owning and operating a private prison. Extending the capacity of the prison and overcrowding to fit more prisoners into the same cell can generate higher profits due to a higher prison population. The previously outfitted cells designed for two people have been converted to hold three prisoners at a time and existing services have not been increased to try to compensate.
Negative Effects of Prison Overcrowding
Services to the 850 prisoners held there are already very limited and any expansion of the population and cell cramming makes life extremely dangerous. The total lack of privacy living with strangers has more than doubled by this policy. Management had lied to prisoners saying the 3rd bunk wasn't to be used. The change was implemented the day after the Ombudsman's official inspection on March 10th, 2014, thereby avoiding his scrutiny. This left prisoners without the ability to voice their complaints and have it properly considered.
It is well-documented that increased rates of inter-prisoner assaults are due to the overcrowding of the prison, with some cases of assault leading to the death of the inmate. With 18 out of every 100 prisoners experiencing violence yearly, increased overcrowding by housing 3 prisoners in a cell designed for 2 can only lead to a further rise in violence.
Prisoners have stated that very negative consequences result from being overcrowded within their cells for up 18 hours a day, on a daily basis. These include:
- Increased tension as a result of the more stressful dynamic, created by 3 active males to a cell.
- A lack of privacy, particularly in relation to the use of toilet facilities.
- Air circulation inadequate and unhealthy. No chance to exercise.
- No way to use time. No computer or chance to develop. Frustration and anger.
The generalized negative effects of prison overcrowding are:
- Increased violence in prison yards.
- A lessening in access and use of services.
- More churning of population with high needs and competition for tobacco and phones.
These findings are highlighted by an outline of real-life situation, provided to us by the currently affected prisoners. Here is the prisoners’ statement going with the Petition:
"We the signatories of the recent 26.02.2014 Petition wish to advise that immediately after the advertised 10.03.2014 Ombudsman visit to Parklea, GEO began filling up the additional ten beds in units 5A, 5B and 5C(Unite 2E unknown) at Parklea.
Since that time, there has been a lot of unrest at the gaol. With the increase of population only just commenced, there have been several fights (not all of those are known to the authorities), countless arguments and ONE (possibly TWO) stabbings already.
Most of the arguments are due to the increase in demand for the telephone. The additional number of prisoners who cannot afford cigarettes (new receptions). The fact that prisoners are now locked outside in hot weather with toilets that are unusable i.e. one situated under a camera, the other situated 140 cm away from the telephone. This situation applies to units 5A, 5B and 5C.
The thought that GEO timed the 3 outs after 10.03.2014 eg 11 or 12 March, suggests that GEO kept the intention secret while advertising the Ombudsman’s arrival.
In calling it a secret, we are suggesting, when the beds were installed before the Ombudsman’s visit, we were told the beds would not be filled. Had we have known, the Ombudsman’s assistants visiting would have been ‘ambushed’ with complaints on the 10 March visit. We are pretty sure the actual placement of the 3rd person in the 10 additional 3 out cells in each pod commenced after ‘lock in’ on 11 March (if this is incorrect, then 12 March). This indicates the level of ‘secrecy’, ‘cunning’ and ‘greed’ behind the intention to pack the prisoners into units like ‘sardines in a can’.
GEO can NOW claim to have an overcrowding problem. However, prior to the deliberate introduction of ‘3’ out cells, they did NOT have an overcrowding problem.
We believe 3 out cells were deemed to be illegal. As a result, the 3rd bed was removed from several prisons. Somehow, GEO were able to rescue the removed beds from Mid North Coast C.C. After advocacy from community groups and a legal victory in the courts. Mid North Coast CC (and others) were told to remove the 3rd bed and ‘cease’ 3 out placements.
It seems that GEO have not been so advised. They should be so advised (GEO are not listening to the prisoners), especially given the tactics employed in its intention to work on the existing protocol for financial gain. In future, trial judges and sentencing bodies should be aware of the frustrating conditions behind violent crimes that will inevitably occur at Parklea as a result of this decision. The Coroner should also be aware, in future inquests into suicides that will inevitably occur also."