First ‘new generation’ prison coming in 2009

The first of South Africa’s long-planned “new generation” prisons should be completed by February next year, MPs heard on Tuesday.

The R662-million Kimberley Correctional Centre was more than one-third completed by the end of last month, prisons commissioner Vernie Petersen told Parliament’s correctional services portfolio committee.

Briefing members on the new 3 000-bed prison — eight such prisons have been on the government’s drawing boards since 2002 — he said a further five will be completed by 2010 or 2011, depending on the speed of construction, at East London, Klerksdorp, Nigel, Paarl and Port Shepstone. Construction will start next year.

Two of the planned new prisons have been “suspended”, pending the outcome of feasibility studies. These are at Leeuwkop in Gauteng, and at Polokwane in Limpopo.

Petersen said a feasibility study showed that having the prisons built, maintained and run over 25 years by the private sector, in a so-called public-private partnership (PPP), would be the best option in terms of “value for money, risk transfer and affordability”.

This notion was strongly opposed by committee chairperson Dennis Bloem, who told Petersen: “We want these prisons, but will never agree to a model we do not understand.” He said his committee will meet urgently to decide whether the new prisons are best built and run by the private or public sector, or a combination of the two.

Petersen said his department favours the public finance model (PFM) of building new prisons, but, in terms of legislation, all procurement methods have to be examined and analysed.

“There was an outcome to that: it told us that the PFM model we prefer is not a viable one, and the value for money, and the best option — the only option that government should follow — is the PPP route,” he said.

Speaking later, Bloem said his objection to the PPP procurement option was based on costs.

There are currently two PPP prisons in South Africa — the 3 000-bed Mangaung Maximum-Security Prison near Bloemfontein, in the Free State; and the 3 000-bed Sinthumule Maximum-Security Prison near Makhado (Louis Trichardt), in Limpopo.

The two cost the government R300-million each a year — paid to the contractors — to run and maintain. This is almost equal to the cost of building the new 3 000-bed Kimberley Prison.

“It’s too expensive,” Bloem said.

A Treasury official at the briefing told members there is a 22% to 23% “financial benefit” to PPP prisons compared with government-run facilities.

Petersen said the cost of building a new 3 000-bed prison is currently about R800-million.

Operational costs at government-run prisons are an estimated R191 per offender per day, adjusted down to R152 a day if overcrowding is taken into account. For a 3 000-bed prison, this would amount to R166,4-million a year.

Earlier, Bloem told members the reason for building new prisons is not to relieve overcrowding, but to “address the problem of rehabilitation in our society”.

The overcrowding problem can be solved by removing all awaiting-trial prisoners and petty offenders — those serving three- or six-month sentences — from the country’s prisons, Bloem said. — Sapa

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