Threats & Challenges in Corrections
The Corrections industry in Australasia is under intense pressure as competing demands are starting to impact on Government public policy. The drivers of this pressure can come from media pushing a law and order agenda following community concerns after high profile crimes as well as the private multinational correctional companies. Governments become captive by the debate and look to partners in the private sector to assist in the policy development. Those companies often advise Governments and Opposition parties on how best to deal with the crime scourge and put themselves forward to assist in writing policy responses. Many of those responses to the “identified” (by the media) problems are simplistic focussing on: More Police, Tougher Sentencing, Truth in Sentencing, and Mandatory Sentencing. These isolated policy responses result in Prison overcrowding, backlogs in Courts, stop gap solutions to bed shortages, and announcements for more prisons but with a 3-4 year lag time.
Governments respond in an ad hoc way often using deploying shipping containers as demountable cells, placing mattress on the floors, fold out beds, demountables, using electronic bracelets, and changing prisoner classifications to match the availability of beds.
To assist the impact on the budget bottom line of these policy responses Governments are confronted with the need to build more permanent prisons and the cost of this policy can be offset by the move to a PPP with one of the Corrections multinational corporations who offer to build own and operate the new prisons as assistance to the Governments. This is on secretive contracts which have no transparency or public accountability. These private companies have a vested interest in assisting the tough on crime mantras as often the model of their contracts focus is on a price per head of prisoner population at each site. They also offer the Governments an ability to reduce the cost of this policy by targeting the pay and conditions of Correctional Officers by not using the professional public sector comparator but instead ascribing the comparator to be the lower wage security industry/crowd controller/bouncer rate of pay. The private companies and Governments then “sell” that the private sector can doing it more efficiently and cheaper than the outmoded public sector but this is at the expense of the professional Correctional Officer rates.
Not satisfied with only this attack the private companies and Governments have started to import the UK experience of Social Impact Bonds (pay for success contracts from the USA) into the policy debate in NSW, WA and Victoria. The focus of these matters has been to target: Recidivism, Probation/Parole, and Education/ Health programs. These programs are often not being delivered by professional public sector workers, but by private companies for profit or by philanthropic non government of faith based organisations.
This policy framework provides the union with a number of industrial challenges where we need to adopt a national response to assist our branches at the local and state level to respond.
Those challenges include: attacks on penalty rates, on rosters, on staffing ratios. Downplaying of OHS concerns. Fast tracked and rushed training programs and inappropriate prisoner mix.
The way we can fight such challenges is to be united and focussed on the welfare of our members. We need to ensure that all involved in corrections are held accountable, both Government and Private multinational corrections companies, for the health and wellbeing of the Officers who keep the prison system running and thereby keep our communities safe. It’s time to Respect the Risk and to ensure that the practice of Governments locking them up and looking away is no longer an acceptable excuse by Governments to the chaos that the many jurisdictions are now facing.
SPEECH BY KAREN BATT TO POAA CONFERENCE CAIRNS OCTOBER 2014