The Monster Department
Corrections to become monster department
The Corrections Department is set to become the largest government department in a few years in terms of staff, Finance Minister Bill English says. Mr English told the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom conference that the number of directly employed Corrections staff would outstrip other government departments in the coming years. "If you're wondering why the Government is spending a lot of money, that's one reason. That's our fastest growing portfolio - Corrections will be in two or three years the largest government department, bigger than the Ministry of Social Development or the Inland Revenue Department." A spokesman for the Corrections Department said it employed 7184 full-time equivalent staff, but he did not have projections for future staff numbers. However, he said with an expected increase in the prison muster, more staff would be needed to manage prisoners. There are currently 9131 beds catering a muster of about 8400 prisoners, which is forecast to rise to 12,500 by 2018.
It's the Monster Department because it creates monsters. We have a media who leads if it bleeds (in March 2006, crime was 22% of the monthly One Network News and was in the headlines 29%, but by March 2010, crime was only 14% of the monthly One Network News yet was in the headlines 35% of the time) so the viewer is bombarded with news designed to push their buttons for ratings gain, but the knock on impact is that residual hatred that is created by the media's myopic focus on ratings driven crime leaks into the political sphere where it gets twisted to promote kneejerk 'get tough on crime' crap which push for punitive policy which only produces counter productive outcomes.
This fear of crime that is over promoted by the ratings hungry media will of course benefit the new Police Political Party running in Council elections THIS YEAR that National rammed through under urgency last month.
The only people who will benefit from our punitive culture are the private prison industry whom National are lining up to help cheapen their law and order rhetoric now that it has become reality via the Sensible Sentencing Trust within ACT. The joke in that of course is that at the Select Committee Meeting on private prisons last year, the head of GEO told the country that private prisons would not be cheaper at all.
American company Wackenhut (whose subsidiary ran the Auckland Central Remand prison until 2000) was stripped of contracts to run prisons in Texas and Louisiana in 1999, after accusations it had mistreated prisoners and tried to maximise profits at the expense of drug rehabilitation, counselling and literacy programmes.
In Australia, where about 17 per cent of the prison population is held in private facilities, the Victorian Government took back public control of the Metro Women's Correctional Centre in 2000 after an inquiry found widespread drug use, deaths in custody, poor training and cover-ups. But most studies paint a more mixed picture of private prisons.
A 2001 report by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the US National Council of Crime and Delinquency found that "there are no data to support the contention that privately operated facilities offer cost savings over publicly managed facilities". There was no evidence, it said, that services to prisons and conditions of imprisonment were "significantly improved in privately operated facilities".
Staffing in private prisons was 15 per cent lower than in public prisons, management information systems were less well organised and the number of major incidents higher. Private prisons also had a higher rate of assaults both on prisoners by other prisoners and prisoners against prison staff.
Is privatising jails really worth the risk?