The most common association with prison privatization is facility management - when a private company is contracted by a governmental agency to manage the daily operations of a jail, prison, or detention center. There are private prisons in 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 U.K. have a higher proportion of their incarcerated population in private facilities.
The following summary explores the situation in several countries that use private prison facility management. For private prisons in the United States, see Facility Management - U.S.
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 in private facilities, and the highest rate of private incarceration per capita. In 2013, one out of five incarcerated people were housed in a private prison. Additionally, the majority of Australia’s immigration centers are privately managed, and all of its offshore immigrant 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 private subsidiary of Ferrovial).
There are ten private prison facilities in Australia: five operated by GEO, two by G4S, another two by Serco, and one by Sodexo. Serco will operate another facility expected to open in 2020 as the largest prison in Australia. While some of these companies, as well as the Australian government, have claimed that their prisons reduce recidivism, a lack of transparency makes it impossible to verify these claims.
In December 2016, Australia launched an incentive program for Sodexo’s Melaleuca women’s prison. 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 labeled it the “worst [they] had ever come across.” The prison was reportedly significantly understaffed and inexperienced, and the educational and training programs that the prison claimed to have were not in place. The government is expected to convert the prison from a women’s reentry facility into a men’s prison.
Australia’s immigrant detention centers have similarly faced significant public scrutiny. Australia’s two 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. Amnesty International called them a “human rights catastrophe”. In May 2016, at the Nauru RPC, two detainees lit themselves on fire in protest, and another six detainees committed suicide. Broadspectrum, which was purchased by Ferrovial in the same year, has publicly 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.
Eleven percent of of the incarcerated population of New Zealand are held in private prisons. In 2015, Serco received the contract for Auckland South Correctional Facility, a prison with 960 people. At the start of the contract, Serco guaranteed that the New Zealand government would closely monitor the prison and that the prison would deliver monthly reports or 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.
Between 2011 and 2016, Serco also operated New Zealand’s Mt Eden Prison. Serco lost this contract after videos surfaced of a “fight club” within the prison, in addition to inadequate staffing, poor kitchen sanitation, and denying the basic rights of prisoners, such as access to phone calls.
The United Kingdom opened its first private prison in 1992. Of the 123 prisons in the U.K., seventeen are managed by private companies, holding nearly fifteen percent of the total prison population. The companies that own these facilities are G4S, Serco, and Sodexo. In addition, 73 percent of the U.K.’s immigrant detainees are held in private facilities, managed by G4S, Serco, GEO, MITIE, and the privately held Reliance Security Group.
There have been multiple controversies over private prisons in the U.K. While the managing companies are required by contract to meet certain standards, and to pay a fee if these standards are not met, the standards are rarely enforced. The private prisons often receive the lowest ratings in the nation, are overcrowded, and are understaffed. Staff at private youth centers have been found to use unnecessary force and restraint and to degrade the children under their care. Private youth centers were found to have have four times the amount of violence as government operated facilities.
In August 2018, the British government seized control of a G4S-managed prison in Birmingham after multiple deaths and drug incidents. In 2017, a BBC program exposed poor staff behavior in a G4S-managed immigrant detention center, to which G4S responded by launching an independent investigation. In 2016, the government similarly took over the management of a youth prison in Kent from G4S due to poor management.
In July 2018, Serco faced criticism for its plans to evict more than 300 asylum seekers from its housing in Glasgow. Asylum rights groups have accused Serco in 2017 of bullying and intimidating asylum seekers out of their accommodation.
In South Africa, there are two private prisons: Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre and Mangaung Maximum Security Correctional Centre. The prisons hold four percent of the total incarcerated population in the country.
Mangaung Maximum Security Correctional Centre, with a capacity of 3,000 people, is managed by G4S. In 2015, a group of incarcerated persons sued G4S for torture, including electric shock, forcible injections, and extended periods of solitary confinement. 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 documented thirty violent incidents towards prison officers, including hostage taking, assaults, stabbings, and rape. In 2014, G4S regained control of the prison.
Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre, with a capacity of just over 3,000 people, is managed by South African Custodial Management (SACM), a subsidiary of GEO Group. In 2014, a riot broke out after prisoners claimed to be underfed.
South Africa also has one private immigrant detention center, Lindela Housing Facility. The Bosasa Group operates the center, which holds 4,000 detainees. There have been 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. Detainees in this facility were also forced to work.
While Canada has no private prison facilities, one of its immigrant detention centers is managed by a private company, Corbel Management Corp., a Canadian private equity firm. The company provides maintenance, housekeeping, and food services for Toronto’s Immigration Holding Center through a contract worth nearly $38 million that ends in 2027. This immigrant detention center was reported to hold at least 48 Canadian-born children each year, 85 percent of whom are under the age of six. The facility lists them as “guests” of their detained parent or family member.
The above summary is not exhaustive. In addition to the countries reviewed above, there are private prisons in Brazil, Chile, France, and Japan, as well as plans for building private prisons in Greece, Jamaica, Mexico, and Peru.
There are also varying degrees of privatization. As outlined in our Prison section, many operational aspects of U.S. government-run prisons are outsourced to private companies. Similarly, in France, the government has created a public-private partnership, where the government remains in control of the management and security of prisons, while private companies handle the rest of the operation.