A new prison that has opened near Grafton, on the New South Wales north coast, will be Australia’s largest, eventually holding up to 1700 inmates.
The facility was built at a cost of about $700 million, and will be operated under a public-private partnership involving the state government and a consortium compromising John Laing, John Holland and Serco.
‘1700 is an outrage’
The involvement of the private sector, and in particular Serco, has sparked concerns.
Brett Collins, from the inmate advocacy group Justice Action, said the operation of such a large facility should not be left in the hands of a private company.
“Two hundred prisoners there is a much more efficient and effective way of managing an internal community, so 1700 is an outrage,” he said.
“We have seen Serco in the past where they don’t have the feedback mechanisms … we don’t have the examinations in Parliament of the Serco administrators.
“So there’s not the same degree of examination of the activities inside a private jail as there is with a public jail.”
Mr Collins said it cost about $100,000 a year to keep a person in prison in Australia, and studies had shown those sent to jail were more likely to reoffend.
‘Good balance between private and public’
The centre was designed to house 1000 males and 300 females in maximum security, and 400 minimum-security male inmates.
It will draw prisoners from around the state, with the first 90 due to arrive on July 1.
The prison has opened at a time of renewed focus on Australia’s criminal-justice system, in particular, rates of Indigenous incarceration, which have almost doubled in the past 30 years.
The general manager of the Clarence Correctional Centre, Glen Scholes, said his goals remained the same, regardless of whether he was working in a private or public system.
“This particular contract, the incentivisation is actually about me being able to keep them out for two years or more, in line with what is a national figure for all governments in terms of reducing reoffending,” he said.
“My personal incentive, coming out of the state system, where I was responsible for 15 jails and I’ve now come to run this one big one, is to actually implement this model.
“I have to report through to the department every month on how we’re going … they require me to report on every single activity.”
The state’s Minister for Corrections, Anthony Roberts, said he had no concerns about the private model.
“It presents a level of competitive tension with the corrections system,” he said.
“Victoria and NSW certainly lead the way in ensuring that we have a very good balance between private and publicly-run prisons … being probably the two most successful states in reducing recidivism and ensuring the safety of our staff.”
The complex is situated at Lavadia in the Clarence Valley, about 12.5 kilometres from Grafton, which looks set to lose its only air service following a bizarre spat between the local council and regional carrier REX.
Gumbaynggirr woman Julie Perkins was part of the community consultative committee for the Clarence Correctional Centre.
She said discussions were still under way about what transport options could be established.
“There’s nothing in concrete yet to the best of my knowledge,” Ms Perkins said.
“It is vital that we stay connected to our people in prisons.”
Scores of jobs were lost in Grafton when an existing jail was dramatically downsized in 2012.
Local MP Chris Gulaptis, who protested against his own government’s decision at the time, has welcomed the new facility.
He said the creation of 600 permanent jobs would deliver a $560 million boost to the regional economy.
“That economic benefit will only grow now through the procurement of local goods and services, and the extra wages it brings to the region,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“It is great news for the Clarence.”