Prison Issues

Prison Issues

Prisoner Public Education Attacked

Long Bay Rally

In May 2016 the Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, and the Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW, Peter Severin, announced the 'Better Prisons' initiative, which would remove over 130 qualified teaching positions in NSW prisons. The proposal would see administrative clerks replace the senior education/education officers and outsource the provision of education to private providers. 

The proposal to privatise prison education highlights significant issues such as prisoners' dependency on private corporations whose main objective is to maximise profits, as well as the problematic outlook that education is merely a means of production.  Thus, implementation of the proposal would compromise rehabilitative environments for inmates in the prison system. For a summary of the issues, please refer to the Summary Paper here.

Click Here for the Letter from May Butler (an inmate) (2nd June 2016)
Click Here for 'Three Quarters of Teachers to be Sacked from NSW Prisons' (SMH 10th May 2016) 

Read more

Privatisation in the International Context

The Argument for Privatisation
Conventional arguments for privatisation of prisons generally canvas the same issues. These characterise privatisation as a response to increasing inmate populations and exploding costs, claiming the potential for private involvement in public services to generate “sustainable value” by bringing public and private interests closer together, and generating the capacity to innovate by identifying and pursuing new opportunities for service provision, which may, in turn, generate positive sectoral spill-over effects.

Despite this, there is an obvious and basic conflict between the interests of society in ultimately minimising the number of people confined in prisons, and the financial interests of private prison operators in maximising the number of prisons, prisoners, and sentence lengths.

Additionally, there is no international measure of prison performance against which private prisons can be effectively adjudged. This is compounded by the fact that a number of private corporations - such as Serco, G4S and GEO - enjoy a monopoly over private prison management in countries including Australia, USA, The UK, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel. 

Read more

Privatisation of Prisons: Analysis

21032016PrivatisationClick here to download the analysis. 

With NSW prisons overcrowding at a record high, the debate about the privatisation of prisons has resurfaced. NSW Prison population numbers have reached over 11 300 and NSW prisons are not equipped to deal with numbers this high.  As of March 2014, there were eight privately run prisons in Australia, two of which are in New South Wales (Green et. al 2014). These centres are Junee and Parklea Correctional Centres. In 2009, the NSW government announced that the GEO Group Inc. would take over Parklea Correctional Centre. Some advocate that privatization aids in solving prison overcrowding and results in a more cost efficient management of prisons (Martha & Frank , 2012).

See the Inspector’s Report on “Full House – the growth of the inmate populations in NSW” here.

Reasons Against Privatisation
The privatisation of Parklea Correctional Centre was opposed in 2009 and our stance has not changed. Drawing upon the experience across Australia, as well as in the United States, England, New Zealand we see an abundance of reasons to strongly oppose privatization.

Read more

Recent Responses to our Online Counselling Proposal

On the 23rd November 2015, Justice Action presented a proposal regarding the provision of online counselling to prisoners at the NSW Legislative Inquiry. It was a proposal to initiate a three-month trial of online counselling in cells at no cost to the government. The proposal is supported by victims group ‘Enough is Enough’ and ‘Prisoner’s Aid of NSW’.

Justice Action asked for support from Minister Elliott and Premier Baird on the 14th December 2015. We received a letter on their behalf from the Commissioner of Corrective Services, Luke Grant, which stated the department “considers an online counselling service [to] not be appropriate without adequate support or engagement with mental health staff”.

We responded with a letter that highlighted the need to implement a different system that will provide effective rehabilitation services. Despite the State Plan to reduce recidivism by 5%, the rate of adult reoffending has actually increased. The NSW Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament 2015 revealed 45.8% of released prisoners returned within two years of release.

Despite contacting Minister Elliott again on the 2nd February 2016, the proposal for online counselling has been ignored.


Prison Privatisation

Media Release: Private Prison Serco takeover: Royal Commission call
Junee Prison Death
Grafton Private Prison
The Failure of Private Prisons in the US - August 2016
Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016

Privatisation refers to the transfer of ownership and management of prisons from the government to private sector actors. This means that the prison structure - which as a state institution, aims to protect the public good - is now being treated as a business venture. Businesses rely on growth in order to generate profit. It follows that an influx of prisoners will equate to an increase in profits. Justice Action unequivocally believes that higher rates of incarceration are not in the public interest. For this reason, 'solving' issues such as overcrowding and resource constraints through the privatisation of prisons is unsustainable, morally questionable and largely counterproductive. Privatisations of Prisons analysis

The US prison system illustrates the dangers of privatisation. The inflation of the US prison population has coincided with the increased privatisation of prison facilties. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 6% of state prisons and 16% of federal prisons are privately run. Currently, the US boasts the highest prison population rate in the world, at 716 per 100,000 people. Despite claims that violent crime has decreased, rates of incarceration have increased. This has resulted in the increased incarceration of minor offenders, including victims of political campaigns such as the War on Drugs. In this sense, reaching prison quotas is achieved through systemic corruption and a blatant rejection of the welfare of the accused individual.

Additionally, the media has exacerbated the growth of corporate power in the US prison system. The media plays a signicant role in shifting public perceptions of the value and function of prison, often employing the language of freedoms and liberties to justify the appauling treatment of those who have abused these rights. A number of prison corporations in the US have been accused of forming alliances with right-wing media channels that disseminate fear into the public sphere. Instilling fear into the community will invariably lead to more validation and support for the expansion of the prison system. A fundamental problem with the US privatised prison system is that it largely ignores prisoner welfare and lacks a genuine consideration for rehabilitation because it stands in direct conflict with the pursuit of corporate interests. In the privatised prison realm, potential reoffenders are viewed as security for the attainment of future profits.

It is clear that the system is in need of reform. However, it is important to evaluate all potential options prior to contracting out a vitally important public institution into the hands of private business.

More from Justice Action:
New Zealand Privatisation
NSW Privatisation 2009
Privatisation on an international level
NSW proposal for a private prison model
New Zealand's Mt Eden Correctional Facility reverts to publicInternational Research Proves Prison Privatisation is a Failure

Right Now is a volunteer not-for-profit organisation that focuses on highlighting human rights issues in Australia through accessible and engaging media, believing that a rights-respecting culture begins with the open flow of information. In 2012, they published a damning review of prison privatisation in Australia. Read the report here.

The Sentencing Project, a US not-for-profit organisation involved in research and advocacy for criminal justice issues, published a report in 2013 of the inherent failings of prison privatisation in the US, a model that has been followed by other countries overseas. Read the report here.

The Conversation published the results of a comparative analysis of prisons in Nordic countries, with a wholly public system, and those in English-speaking countries, where private prisons are common. Read the article here.

Inspector's Report


Overview of Inspector of Custodial Services Report

Bolivia Prison Wordpress

Full House: The Growth of the Inmate Population in NSW’

Parliamentary forum August 26,2015 & CJC/ICJ Analysis of Report

JA Analysis of CSNSW Response to Report

CSNSW Response to Inspector's Report

See our Media Release: Prisons Budget Expansion Failure 

“Full House: The Growth of the inmate population in NSW” written by the Inspector of Custodial Services, J. R. Paget tabled in parliament 6th may 2015, brings to light the stark realities of prison overcrowding in NSW. Mr John Paget, former Assistant Commissioner for New South Wales warns of the consequences on inmates and staff of the mismanagement he documented. He said:                                                                                                           

“Where the state treats inmates in a way that denies them a modicum of dignity and humanity it should not be surprised if they respond accordingly, with individual acts of non-compliant behaviour escalating into collective disorder, such as riots” (Foreword)

This report outlines the negative implication the growth of the inmate population has had upon issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation and education services, as well as the health and wellbeing of prisoners.

Read more

Grafton Prison


Latest News:
Serco Abusive Prisons, Not Grafton Next!
Grafton Community Interest Research
Plans Unveiled for Australia's Largest Prison
Grafton Man to Unfairly Lose Home 

Grafton Prison currently houses 64 inmates. The NSW Government has announced developments will ensue in order to provide a maximum capacity of 1700 inmates by 2020. These developments will be the product of a partnership between the Government and a private enterprise (a Consortium consisting of Serco, Macquarie Capital, John Liang and John Holland).

Serco is an international service that works with government and public service providers in seven key sectors: Citizen Services, Defence, Facility Services, Health, Immigration, Justice and Transport. This company delivers services to the UK, Europe, North America, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia. In 2017, Serco (as part of the Northern Pathways Consortium) was awarded the contract for the operation of the New Grafton Correctional Centre.

Serco claims to deliver a responsible prisoner model that promotes respect, encourages positive behaviours and allows prisoners to learn and take responsibility for managing their own circumstances. They directly manage prison accommodation, prisoner mental health services, prisoner transport, and rehabilitation programs. They also aim to reduce recidivism to improve social outcomes and reduce the burden on law enforcement. 

Despite these claims, Serco’s track record for international prison management has been met with severe criticism. Serco’s deviation from its doctrine of prisoner autonomy and rehabilitation in these instances not only questions the reliability of Serco’s management of the New Grafton Correctional Centre, but also the broader consequences of prison privatisation.


Supermax's cruel and degrading conditions


On March 11, a select group of thirteen prisoners, all Muslim, were re-classified as ‘extreme high-risk restricted’, without any explanation provided as to why these changes suddenly occurred. The majority of these prisoners have been convicted of terrorism-related offences, except for two prisoners who are still awaiting trial on terrorism offences. The prisoners’ new classification was accompanied by a raft of unprecedented changes to conditions inside the prison, which have been described as ‘cruel and degrading’.

Justice Action has raised serious concerns regarding the introduction of strict new security regulations at Goulburn’s ‘Supermax’ Correctional Centre. The regulations clearly breach A10 of the ICCPR, which state all persons are to be "treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". Justice Action has written a letter to the Commissioner to urgently review these changes. 

Read more

Domestic Violence

domestic violence photo.jpgLATEST NEWS
Domestic Violence Prevention Paper  

The prevalence of domestic violence continues to increase at an alarming rate; perpetrators of domestic violence offences are amongst the most represented groups within correctional services.  

The clear need to explore additional counseling options for domestic violence is demonstrated by the high recidivism rate. With 20.3% of perpetrators reoffending within twelve months of release, online services could provide crucial assistance in ending the cyclical nature of domestic violence.  

In 2015, Justice Action offered to conduct a free 3 month trial of online delivery of councelling services in NSW correctional services. You can view more here.

Read more


  • get involved2
  • donate
  • breakout-logo2



Justice Action
Trades Hall, Level 2, Suite 204
4 Goulburn Street
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

T 02 9283 0123
F 02 9283 0112
E ja@justiceaction.org.au
© 2017 Breakout Media Communications
breakout-logo  womens justice network icon logo-community