Private Facilities Internationally

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 prisons, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. have higher proportions of their incarcerated population in private facilities.

The following table summarizes the ranking of countries by incarceration rate compared to their total prison population based on a 2018 Prison Policy Initiative report and PrisonStudies.Org.

Country Rate of Incarceration (per 100,000 people) Prison Population (in thousands)
United States  698 2,122
United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) 356 92
South Africa 280 158
New Zealand 220 11
Australia 167 41
Canada 114 41

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.

AUSTRALIA

According to a 2016 report by the University of Sydney Business School, private prisons house 18.5 % of Australian prison population. Out of all the countries that have private prisons, Australia has the highest rate of private incarceration per capita. The five companies involved in Australia’s facility management are Serco, G4S, The GEO Group (GEO), Sodexo, and Broadspectrum (a private subsidiary of Ferrovial). Additionally, the majority of Australia’s immigration centers are privately managed, and all of its offshore immigrant processing centers are privately managed.

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” and Human Rights Watch has documented the conditions. 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.

CANADA

Canada’s two former privately managed prison facilities were reverted back to government management: the GEO-built Miramichi Youth Detention Facility and the Central North Correctional Centre. One of its immigrant detention centers continues to be managed by a Canadian private equity firm, Corbel Management Corp. 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.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand’s prison population has doubled in the last 15 years and is nearing 10,000 - a record high. In 2015, Serco received the contract for Auckland South Correctional Facility, a prison with 967 people, nine percent of New Zealand’s incarcerated population.. 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 Correctional Facility 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. Consequently, Serco was forced to pay eight million dollars in compensation to the New Zealand government.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa has the second largest prison population globally, following the United States. 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 2013, a series of riots, stabbings, and strikes broke out at the facility. In 2014, inmates claimed to be underfed and threatened to burn down the prison.

South Africa also has one private immigrant detention center, Lindela Holding 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.

UNITED KINGDOM

The United Kingdom has the second highest rate of incarceration following the United States and the third largest prison population globally. The United Kingdom opened its first private prison in 1992. Of the 123 prisons in the U.K., 17 are managed by private companies, holding nearly 15% of the total prison population. The companies that own these facilities are G4S, Serco, and Sodexo. In addition, 73% 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 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 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 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 took back management of a youth facility in Kent after staff members were accused of physical and emotional abuse against several teenagers.

OTHER COUNTRIES

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 Services in Facilities 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.

In Brazil, where the prison population is expected to rise to 1.9 million by 2030, there are approximately 22 private prisons within seven states. Human Rights Watch has documented the worsening conditions in prisons in Brazil, including overcrowding and violence. In January 2017, a riot occurred in a privately owned facility, where 58 incarcerated people were killed and 180 incarcerated people escaped.

The main companies involved in this sector

  • GEO Group, of Boca Raton, FL (NYSE: GEO)
  • G4S PLC, of Crawly, U.K. (LON: GFS, OMX: G4S)
  • Sodexo SA, of Issy-les-Moulineaux, France (EPA: SW)
  • Serco Group PLC, of  Hook, U.K. (LON: SRP)
  • Ferrovial SA, of Spain, (FER: MCE)
  • Mitie Group, U.K., (LSE:MTO)
  • Reliance Security Group Ltd, of Uxbridge, U.K. (Private)
  • Corbel Management Corp, of Ontario, Canada (Private)