We don’t really care what you do to them

If you’re a ruthless, amoral corporation looking to make a fairly easy buck off other people’s suffering, you can’t go past running prisons.

The recipients of the services you provide – prisoners – are the most hated and least sympathetic characters in society, so very few really care how badly you treat them. Okay, when you kill them through negligence there’ll be some adverse findings that’ll be embarrassing for your company, but the decision-makers won’t really care. Their masters, the public, choose to believe the absurd lie that you’re treating prisoners to some kind of luxurious holiday accommodation (at taxpayers’ expense!!11!), despite the fact that makes no sense on any level, and many of them quietly applaud abuse. (They certainly won’t vote against a government for being too “tough on criminals”.)

Okay, so the skeptical might ask – how are you meant to make a profit out of running prisons? Surely the state was already spending the bare minimum it could get away with to keep prisoners alive and not have UN inspectors investigating the joint? How can you bid less and carve out a profit margin? Well, firstly, “efficiencies”, which obviously mean crappier conditions for prison employees than the state offers. (Don’t worry, they won’t get too angry with you – they’ve got prisoners to take their frustrations out on.) Secondly, you can make conditions much worse for prisoners than the government could get away with. Your whole value to the minister is a blame-shifting device – when things go horribly wrong, responsibility can be diluted and outrage disippated between the two of you.

Check out what G4S has been able to get away with and still be the “preferred tender” for the Melbourne Custody Centre:

  • “The private security firm was last year named in a damning West Australian Coroner’s report, which found it had contributed to the ”wholly unnecessary and avoidable death” of a 46-year-old Aboriginal man in its custody in January 2008.”
  • “contributed to the 2005 death of Ian Westcott, who died of an asthma attack in the G4S-run Port Phillip prison. A note found near his body read: ‘Asthma attack. buzzed for help. no response.'”
  • “the company had failed to provide a safe environment at Port Phillip when four men hanged themselves in 1997.”
  • “A 2006 report by the Victorian Ombudsman and the Office of Police Integrity found inadequacies in the way prisoners were transported, with insufficient attention paid to their conditions, including ”basic amenities for long trips””

I mean, don’t go insane. Minimise the problems as best as you’re able, within the primary goal of cutting costs – but you can get away pretty much with murder. Nobody will care. Particularly when your chief competitor is even worse.

The only people who will object are human rights advocates. And who listens to them?

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6 responses to “We don’t really care what you do to them

  1. Why are civil liberties and human rights so unimportant these days? Actually, I think I know.

    I also agree with your point about privatisation as a nmethod of blame-shifting — it’s easy to hate (in a taboid sense) faceless corporations, but harder to keep them accountable, because their terms of service are all commercial in confidence. Gah!

  2. I propose 10 changes to the conditions imposed by the state on people who get locked up in the Melbourne Custody Centre AKA The Submarine.

    In no particular order:

    1. Prisoners must be allowed to make one free phone call each day they are incarcerated. At the moment, I believe prisoners are permitted one phone call for the duration of their stay and it is made on their behalf by the Salvation Army.

    2. Prisoners who smoke must be given several free cigarettes a day and be allowed to smoke in a designated smoking room and/or be given several pieces of nicotine gum each day.

    3. The food must be as good as it is in prisons like the Melbourne Assessment Prison. This food could easily be prepared at The Map and transported to the custody centre.

    4. Prisoners must be allowed to watch films on DVDs in addition to TV shows, films like The Shawshank Redemption.

    5. Every prisoner must be allowed into their cells during the day. As things stand, prisoners are herded into one large cell reminiscent of the cylinder in Samuel Beckett’s The Lost Ones for each day’s duration. Some prisoners need a safer, more personal space.

    6. Prisoners must be given reading material other than the Herald Sun and religious texts.

    7. Prisoners must be allowed to view the sky at least once a day. It might be difficult to build a room or open area from which the sky can be viewed, but it’s not impossible.

    8. The cells must be air-conditioned (if they aren’t already).

    9. Heroin-addicted prisoners must be given methadone (if they aren’t already).

    10. No prisoner can be held in the centre more than two days.

    Here’s a little poem I wrote in support of these changes. Written in the character of a crazed criminal who is not unlike the media and entertainment industry in that he’s impressed by a crazed criminal he’s describing who’s impressed by his own crazed criminality, I think it’s scary enough to scare any potential prisoner or critic susceptible to the thought that the custody centre wouldn’t be a terrible place if the changes were made. The banging is my character fondly recounting blows to an innocent committed by the main character and a Holy Shit!, but I suppose it could also be my character recounting blows to smash-proof glass.

    Stewed. A Report Fom The Melbourne Custody Centre.

    Bang! Bang! Bang! BANG!
    Well, his wife can’t say he never rang,
    echoed the absence of the light of day,
    circled like a wolf around innocent prey
    and befitting a man fed a diet of dog food
    and the cult of celebrity cooks, stewed,
    said ”Fuck the Herald Sun!
    And fuck the fucking bible!
    They never made me
    feel the least bit tribal!
    I need nicotine,
    in gum if not tobacco!
    When I don’t get any I go
    WHACK! WHACK! WHACKO!”

    That is all.

  3. Privatised prisons clearly don’t work from a duty of care perspective, but do they even work from an economic perspective, ie value for money for taxpayers? What would be the long term costs to the State of private run vs state run prison services?

  4. More evidence of the luxurious holiday accommodation experienced by detainees.

  5. In the US privately run prisons use their prisoners as a cheap labour force. During the 90s many companies outsourced work to prison labour costing many jobs in the us and contributing to the destruction of their manufacturing base.

    It was conceivable for someone to be working or over 20 bucks an hour, lose their job turn to crime to supplement their income and end up in prison doing the same work for about 20 cents an hour. (I am not sure if this actually happened but it may have in relation to the Texas Instruments plant in Austin (I think) in the early 90s. Either way the potential is there and that on its own is bad enough.)

    The fact is that private prisons are a public menace. For a business to be successful it has to grow, this means more prisoners and longer sentences or it means expanding into providing labour services or something similar (… perhaps selling the organs of prisoners who die in custody or something…). Neither growth option is good for the health of society.

    It requires harsher punishments and more repressive laws, or an erosion of the position of working people.

  6. Anyone ever see Robocop? I’m sure a few of you have. In that movie Detroit privatises its police force. Considering we’ve privatised the running of prisons and detention centres am I being paranoid in thinking that one day it’ll happen to the police?

    It’s pretty sickening outsourcing prisons. They already have problems with drugs, corruption, and lack of accountability – and that’s with government oversight. With the corporate dollar ruling supreme it can only get worse.

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