The privatisation of the Adelaide Remand Centre has been thrust back into the spotlight as the search for a man who escaped the high-security facility continues for a second day.
Prisoner Jason Burdon, 33, broke out of the facility, in Adelaide’s CBD, about 9.55am on Tuesday by using clothes as a makeshift rope.
Police were notified at 10.20am. After stealing an electric bike and being tracked via CCTV through the city, Burdon was seen on cameras heading towards Port Road.
About 12.45pm, he stole a black Toyota RAV4 in West Lakes Shore, 15 kilometres north-west of the city.
South Australia’s Department of Correctional Services chief executive David Brown told ABC Radio Adelaide that Burdon had been working in the facility’s kitchen area before he escaped.
Mr Brown said kitchen operations were under the supervision of staff from Serco – the private company that has run the remand centre since 2019 – and said because the facility was high-security, it was also under CCTV coverage.
Whether anyone was watching the CCTV feeds at the time of Burdon’s escape was “a matter for the investigation”, Mr Brown said.
He said the investigation would focus on the events leading up to Burdon’s escape, as well as the conduct of staff and operation of the prison.
Mr Brown said it was a “very good question” as to why it took 25 minutes to notify police that someone had escaped.
“Our priority is to do a thorough investigation into the incident, establish how the physical breach occurred,” he said.
“Of course, we need to understand the supervision that was in place – the adequacy of that supervision – leading up to that incident.”
Mr Brown would not comment on whether staffing levels had dropped at the remand centre since its privatisation, but did say the operation had “clearly changed” from a public sector-operated prison to a facility operated by Serco.
Mr Brown conceded that although the operations and staffing of the facility “are a responsibility for Serco”, it ultimately fell on his shoulders.
“Ultimately it’s my responsibility – I’m the chief executive of the Department for Correctional Services,” he said.
“I acknowledge that any escape from custody is unacceptable.
“As this is an escape [that’s] occurred from secure custody, that’s of more concern, significant concern.”
Serco has been contacted for comment.
Union slams privatisation
Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin was critical of the privatisation of the prison, which was announced in the 2018 state budget.
“Privately-run prisons simply don’t work,” he said.
“We’re looking at multinational companies, we’re looking at fewer staff, we’re looking at inferior training, we’re looking at more assaults occurring in the private prisons, we’re looking at more contraband getting into the private prisons, and we’re looking at overall reduced safety.”
Mr Kitchin said the PSA had “reliable information” that there were “around 50 per cent less staff” working at the remand centre since it was privatised – a claim rejected by Mr Brown.
Burdon is described as being about 165 centimetres tall, with a medium build and light brown hair.
Police do not believe he is a danger to the public, but have urged anyone who spots him to not approach, and instead contact police on 131 444 or triple zero.
SA Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas was also critical of the prison’s privatisation.
“We should be clear about this – the Adelaide Remand Centre is a maximum security facility,” Mr Malinauskas said.
“It houses some of our most dangerous criminals, and prisons are there to protect the public, not deliver a profit to a private operator.”
On Tuesday, Correctional Services Minister Vincent Tarzia told Parliament it was “not a time to play politics on this issue”.
“Any escape from any security facility is a concern,” he said.
“The priority at the moment is to make sure we can apprehend this individual and bring him back into custody.”
Mr Tarzia is expected to provide a further update later on Wednesday.