The most common association with prison privatization is facility management. Facility management is when a company is contracted with a governmental agency to manage the daily operations of a jail, prison, or detention center. There is private facility management is at least eleven countries and, while the United States has the highest total number of people incarcerated in private facilities, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK have higher percentages of incarcerated people held in private facilities.
The following summary explores the situation in several countries that use private prison facility management.
The main companies involved in this sector are:
Broadspectrum, a subsidiary of Ferrovial SA, of Madrid, Spain (BME: FER)
G4S plc, of Crawly, U.K. (LON: GFS, OMX: G4S)
Sodexo SA, of Issy-les-Moulineaux, France (EPA: SW)
The GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, FL (NYSE:GEO)
Serco Group PLC, of Hook, U.K. (LON: SRP)
Corbel Management Corporation, of Ontario, Canada (private)
Australia has the third largest private prison population in the world, the second highest percentage of incarcerated people held within private facilities, and the highest rate of private incarceration per capita. In 2013, one out of five incarcerated people were housed in a private facility. Additionally, the majority of Australia’s immigration centers are privately managed, and all of its offshore processing centers are privately managed. The five companies involved in Australia’s facility management are Serco, G4S, The GEO Group (GEO), Sodexo, and Broadspectrum (a subsidiary of Ferrovial).
There are nine private prison facilities in Australia. GEO operates four facilities, G4S and Serco each operate two facilities (although Serco will operate another facility expected to open in 2020 and be the largest correctional facility in Australia), and Sodexo operates one facility. These facilities have been the source of significant controversies. There is a lack of transparency that many have claimed makes it impossible to know if these facilities are reducing recidivism, although many of the corporations and the Australian government have argued the facilities reduce recidivism.
In December 2016, Australia began an incentive program for Sodexo’s facility in Melaleuca. For each person that does not return to prison for two years, Sodexo will receive $11,000. However, in March 2017, inspectors of the prison have labelled it the “worst [they] had ever come across.” The prison is significantly understaffed and inexperienced, and the educational and training programs that the prison claimed to have are nonexistent. The government is expected to convert the prison from a women’s reentry facility to a men’s prison.
The immigration detention centers in Australia have faced significant public scrutiny. Amnesty International referred to the offshore centers as a “human rights catastrophe”. The offshore centers, Manus Regional Processing Center and Nauru Regional Processing Center (RPC), both run by Broadspectrum, have been the focus of much of the attention. In May 2016, at the Nauru RPC, two detainees lit themselves on fire in protest, and another six detainees has committed suicide. Broadspectrum, which was purchased by Ferrovial in 2016, has publically stated that it will not renew its contracts with the Australian government. However, in February 2017, the Australian government unilaterally extended the contract until November 2017.
In New Zealand, 11 percent of the incarcerated population is housed in a private facility. Serco, which manages Auckland South Correctional Facility, had previously operated another private prison in New Zealand, but lost its contract after videos surfaced of a fight club within the prison in 2016. In addition to the fight club, the Serco-managed facility was also accused of inadequate staffing, poor kitchen sanitation, and denying incarcerated people basic rights, such as access to phone calls.
In 2015, Serco received the contract for Auckland South, which houses 960 incarcerated people. At the start of the contract, Serco claimed the prison would be closely watched by the New Zealand government, deliver monthly reports, and face sanctions if it did not meet its targets or if any violent incidents were reported. However, in 2016, Auckland South was ranked one of the worst prisons in New Zealand. The factors used to determine the ranking included assaults and positive drug tests.
The UK opened its first private prison in 1992. There are currently 14 private prison facilities in the UK, housing nearly 15 percent of the total prison population. The companies that own these facilities are G4S, Serco, and Sodexo. In addition, 73 percent of the UK’s immigration detainees are housed by private companies. These facilities are managed by G4S, Serco, the GEO Group, MITIE and Reliance Security.
There have been many controversies over private prisons in the United Kingdom. While the private prisons companies are required through contract to meet certain standards, and pay a fee if these standards are not met, these standards are rarely enforced. The private prisons often fall to the lowest ratings in the nation, are overcrowded, and understaffed. The private youth centers have been found to use unnecessary force and restraint, degrade the children in their care, and be rifled with four times the amount of violence as government operated facilities.
In South Africa, there are two private prisons: Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre and Mangaung Maximum Security Correctional Centre. The prisons hold 4 percent of the total incarcerated population in the country.
Mangaung Maximum Security Correctional Centre, which holds nearly 3,000 incarcerated people, is managed by G4S. In 2015, incarcerated people sued G4S for alleged acts of torture, including electric shocks, forcible injections, and holding incarcerated people within isolation cells for long periods of time. From 2013 to 2014, the South African government took over management of the prison after G4S had “lost effective control of the facility.” The government listed 30 violent incidents towards prison officers, including hostage taking, assaults, stabbings, and rape. In 2014, G4S retook control of the prison.
Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre, which can hold just over 3,000 incarcerated people, is managed by South African Custodial Management (SACM), which is partnered with the GEO Group. In 2014, a riot broke out after prisoners claimed to be underfed.
South Africa also has one private immigration detention center, Lindela Housing Facility. The Bosasa Group operates the center, which holds 4,000 detainees. There are many allegations of human rights abuses at Lindela. In December 2016, a detained person died in the facility, and his family was not notified until February 2017. The facility has also forced the detained people to work.
While Canada has no private prison facilities, one of its immigration holding centers is managed by a private company. Corbel Management Corporations provides maintenance, housekeeping, and food services, as well as the facility, for Toronto’s Immigration Holding Center (IHC). The contract was for nearly $38 million and ends in 2027.
Toronto’s IHC was reported to house at least 48 Canadian-born children each year, listed as “guests” to their detained parent or family member. The majority of these children, 85 percent, were under the age of 6.
Corbel Management Corporation is a private equity firm headquartered in Canada.
The above summary is not exhaustive. There are private prisons within Chile, Japan, Brazil, and France, as well as plans of building in Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and Greece.
There are also varying degrees of privatization. In France, the government has created a public-private partnership, where the government remains in control of the management and security, and the rest is handled through private companies.
In Brazil, where the prison population is expected to rise to 1.9 million by 2030, there are approximately twenty-two private prisons within seven states. In January 2017, a riot occurred in a privately owned facility, where 58 incarcerated people were killed and 180 incarcerated people escaped.
However, there are countries in which prison privatization has been met with opposition. In 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against opening a private prison, stating it would cause “harsh and grave damage to the basic human rights of prisoners and to their freedom and human dignity.”