The opening of the new Grafton Prison or Clarence Correctional Facility (25/06/2020) has sparked national outrage.
The construction of the prison, which is the largest in Australasia, cost $800m AUD. Interviews with Grafton locals reflect that the community would rather see the money invested in crime prevention schemes, restorative justice and rehabilitation. The prison has also been constructed to hold 1700 inmates, raising debate over whether this large volume of inmates is manageable.
Former NSW Inspector of Custodial Services, John Paget, supports the notion that building new prisons represents an expensive failure of public policy, highlighting the lack of commitment by the NSW Government to evidence-based criminal justice.
The awarding of the prison contract to notorious private operating company SERCO has been controversial. Popular claims suggest that privatisation of this industry commercialises the moral compact between citizen and state and reduces accountability to the public. There are also concerns that private prisons aim to maximise their profits by adopting the lowest standards possible, with fewer staff and services, as well as promoting crime in the interest of financial gain.
The selection of Grafton as the prison location is also topical. Grafton was the subject of the 1978 Nagle Royal Commission into the management of NSW prisons, where ‘thirty four years of brutality and savagery’ was admitted by prison officers.
The privatised prison system is an industry built on the capitalisation of suffering, with the NSW community paying the financial and social costs.