Few countries other than the United States have private prisons, i.e. prisons, jails, or detention centers whose management is outsourced to private contractors. While the U.S. has the highest number of people incarcerated in private prisons, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. have higher proportions of their incarcerated population in private prisons. The private prison industry in these countries is dominated by four companies: U.S.-based GEO Group, British companies G4S and Serco, and French company Sodexo. Some prisons are managed by local, privately-owned companies. In many places that have private prisons, this is a hotly debated issue, with some governments moving to deprivatize and take back control of previously privatized prisons. See below for country-by-country details. The list below is not exhaustive of all countries that contain private prisons.
This section focuses on companies that are contracted by governments to manage the daily operations of jails, prisons, or detention centers outside the U.S. It does not include lesser forms of privatization, such as the outsourcing of prison maintenance or food supply to private companies, as exists in many more countries. We cover these types of privatization only in regard to the U.S. prison industry. For information on companies that own or manage prisons in the U.S., see our Facility Management page.
The main companies involved in this sector:
The GEO Group, Inc., 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 Madrid, Spain, (FER: MCE)
Mitie Group, or Bristol, U.K., (LSE: MTO)
In Australia, private prisons hold 18.5 percent of the prison population, as of 2016 - the highest rate in the world. Out of more than a hundred prisons in Australia, eleven are privately-operated: four by The GEO Group, three by G4S, two by Serco, one by Ferrovial, and one by Sodexo.
Serco manages the country’s largest prison, Acacia Prison in Western Australia, which has a capacity of 1,513 people. The company also manages the Southern Queensland Correctional Center in Western Australia. The Western Australian government stated that it will take over operations of the West Australian prison in 2021 due to an official investigation, which found that the number of assaults was higher in private prisons than state-run prisons. In 2017, Serco signed a contract to operate the Clarence Correctional Centre, which will replace Acacia as Australia’s largest prison when it opens in June 2020. The new prison is built by the Northern Pathways consortium, which comprises Serco, Australian construction firm John Holland, U.K.-based investment firm John Laing, and Australian financial group Macquarie Capital.
Additionally, the majority of Australia’s immigrant detention centers are privately managed. Since 2009, Serco has been the predominant operator of mainland Australian immigration jails. This contract was last renewed in 2019 for two years. Australia’s two off-shore immigration jails - Manus Regional Processing Center and Nauru Regional Processing Center - are also privately managed. In 2018, the Australian government contracted Paladin Group, an Australian security company, for operating the Manus Island jail, and Canstruct International, an Australian civil engineering firm, for the jail in Nauru. Before that, both facilities were operated by Broadspectrum, a subsidiary of Ferrovial. Both off-shore facilities have been known for their severe human rights violations.
Brazil has the world’s fourth highest incarceration rate. Between 2001 and 2016 Brazil’s incarceration rate grew by seven percent, which is ten times faster than the country’s population growth. Like the U.S., the fastest growing segment of incarcerated people is that of women and the majority of those incarcerated are young males ages 18-29, 61.6 percent of whom are of African descent.
As of 2016, seven Brazilian states have a total of 22 privatized prisons in an attempt to deal with prison overcrowding. These are operated by local, privately-owned Brazilian companies. In 2009, the Gestores Presiónales Asociados (GPA) consortium won a 27 year contract to manage five prisons in the state of Minas Gerais. The GPA consortium is made up of five companies, mostly construction firms: CCI Construções S.A, Construtora Augusto Velloso S.A., Empresa Tejofran de Saneamento y Serviços, N.F. Motta Construções e Comércio, and Instituto Nacional de Administração Prisional - INAP. In 2016, the Pamas consortium, made up of Umanizzare Gestão Prisional e Serviços Ltda and LFG Locaçoes e Serviços Ltda, received about $125 million to co-manage prisons in the State of Amazonas. Umanizzare Gestão Prisional e Serviços Ltda manages 3 prisons and 2 detention centers.
Out of the three immigration detention centers in Canada, two are government-run and one is managed by Corbel Management Corp, a.k.a. Corbel Capital Partners, a U.S.-based private equity firm. The privately managed detention center is called the Greater Toronto Area Immigration Holding Center. The company provides the detention facility itself while also managing the facility’s maintenance, housekeeping, and food services. The contract is worth nearly $38 million and is set to end in 2027. G4S is contracted to manage the security of this detention center. This immigrant jail was reported to hold at least 48 Canadian-born children each year, 85 percent of whom are under the age of six. The jail lists them as “guests” of their detained parent or family member.
In addition to immigration jails, Canada used to have private prisons. The maximum-security prison Central North Correctional Center in Ontario was operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) between 2001 and 2006. It was reverted into a state-run prison because of a performance evaluation that revealed a public prison of equivalent size had better security, higher quality health care for incarcerated individuals, and reduced repeat offender rates. Additionally, the New Brunswick Youth Centre, a juvenile prison in Miramichi, was built by The GEO Group and was operated by the company until the 1990s after public protests against the for-profit incarceration of youth. The GEO Group still has a maintenance contract for the prison.
Between 2000 and 2018, New Zealand’s prison population has doubled and reached 10,000- a record high for that country. Seventeen prisons in the country are government-run and one is operated by private contractor Serco Group. In 2012, a consortium of companies, including Serco, received a 25-year contract to design, build, and operate the Auckland South Correctional Facility, a prison holding 960 people, which is nine percent of New Zealand’s incarcerated population. In 2016, this prison was ranked one of the worst prisons in New Zealand, based on the prevalence of assaults and drug use.
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.
Since 2016, South Africa’s prison population has been increasing after six years of decline. Two out of the country’s 235 prisons are privately-operated, holding about 3,000 people each, representing 3.5 percent of South Africa’s total prison population. Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre is managed by The GEO Group and Mangaung Correctional Centre is managed by G4S. They are reportedly the largest private prisons in the world.
Mangaung Correctional Centre, a maximum-security prison in Bloemfontein, is operated by G4S. The company was part of a consortium that designed, financed, and constructed the prison, which opened in 2001. G4S has a 25-year contract to manage the prison however, between 2013 and 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, the government returned management of the prison to G4S. One year later, in 2015, a group of people incarcerated at Mangaung sued G4S for torture, including electric shock, forcible injections, and extended periods of solitary confinement.
Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre, a maximum-security prison north-west of Johannesburg, is managed by South African Custodial Services (SACS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of GEO Group. The company has been managing the prison since 1999, when it was awarded a 25-year contract to finance, design, construct, and operate the prison.
In addition to these two multinational corporations, local privately-owned company Bosasa used to operate a private immigrant detention center, Lindela Holding Facility. The jail holds 2,500-3,000 immigrants and was the subject of several allegations of human rights abuses. In December 2016, a detained person died in the facility, and his family was not notified until February 2017. Bosasa also operated 11 juvenile jails in five South African provinces. The company was liquidated in 2019, and these facilities are now run by the government.
Out of more than a hundred prisons in England and Wales, fourteen are privatized and operated by three for-profit companies: G4S, Serco, and Sodexo. These private prisons are newer, tend to be larger, and were found to be more violent than state-run prisons. Serco and Sodexo also manage one prison each in Scotland, out of fifteen prisons there. In 2019, the Scottish government decided to stop contracting out prisons when these contracts expire in 2024. In Northern Ireland, all three prisons are state-operated.
In addition to prisons, the British Home Office, which is in charge of immigration enforcement and deportations, has outsourced seven out of eight of its Immigration Removal Centers to G4S, The GEO Group, Mitie Group, and Serco. In addition, the UK has two large short-term holding jails and some thirty smaller short-term holding rooms located at airports and other ports of entry for immigrants awaiting deportation. All these short-term immigrant jails are operated by Mitie Group. Until 2018, most of these facilities were operated by Tascor Services (previously known as Reliance Security Group), a subsidiary of Capita (LSE: CPI). Capita did not bid on this contract when it expired, and the Home Office contracted Mitie until 2028.
The poor conditions in private detention centers have contributed to increased suicide rates. In 2015, the number of suicide attempts in UK detention centers averaged more than one every day, with 393 people trying to take their lives - a record high. In March 2015, almost 250 asylum seekers at Mitie’s Harmondsworth immigration detention centre went on hunger strike to protest living conditions.