Privately-run prisons are failing, says Ndebele

Members of Parliament voiced concerns on Tuesday over the billions of rands spent by the state on privately-run prisons and the disappointing results these institutions have yielded.

Chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional services, Vincent Smith, revealed that the state will spend about R12-billion over the next 14 years on the contracts for the running of the two privately run prisons.

"The contract stipulates that we are in this relationship for 25 years, and I think we have about 14 years to go," said Smith.

Smith said the R18-billion to R20-billion that the state would have invested over the 25 years buys only two correctional centres.

"The annual costs of the two centres is R800-million a year. At the rate of R800-million for the next 14 years it will probably be in the tune of R12-billion that we are going to have to expend on this thing. After 25 years, all we get is just two correctional centres, that’s all we get," he said.

"I'm wondering if there might be a need for us to look at it, I know we can't stop it but look at it in light of the fact that R21-billion could have bought us 18 prisons if you take the rate we pay for Kimberley [prison]."

The Mangaung Correctional Centre is one of two in the country where the government entered into public-private partnerships [PPPs] and contracted private companies to manage them.

The other one is the Kutama Sinthumule Correctional Centre in Makhado in Limpopo.

The Bloemfontein Corrections Consortium is responsible for the Mangaung prison, with the multinational security company G4S in charge of implementation.

But the department assumed command of the prison on October 9, after it established that the management had lost "effective control over the prison" following a lengthy spate of stabbings, riots, strikes and hostage taking.

On October 25, a Wits Justice Project investigation published in the Mail & Guardian revealed how Mangaung was allegedly forcibly injecting inmates with antipsychotic medication and using electroshocks to subdue and control prisoners.

On Tuesday morning, correctional service’s acting commissioner Nontsikelelo Jolingana said after the department took over in Mangaung, a great deal of things came to the fore resulting in a two-pronged investigation.

"We are having an investigation that is looking at healthcare issues and another looking at security issues," she said.

Jolingana said after she received a preliminary investigation, they then realised that they needed a deeper investigation into the issues "and therefore we are expecting the healthcare investigation report to be submitted to us on November 8 and the one covering broader security issues to be submitted on November 15".

Jolingana also explained that there were two parts to the contract that the state had with the private company: the building part which Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele had said would soon belong to the department, and the running and management of the prison part.

"As a department we have admitted that this is one of those contracts that were not carefully thought through; we agree that outsourcing custodial duties of inmates was not the best move and therefore that is why this matter was taken back to Cabinet and a decision was taken that there will be no more private-public partnerships in the current form as we have the two … in the country," said Jolingana.

She also revealed that the Mangaung prison controller was also under investigation.

Jolingana said the controller was supposed to inform the department about developments in the prison, but never did. She said there have been allegations made against the controller, which are now being investigated as part of the bigger probe.

Ndebele said the whole idea of having public-private partnerships for prisons came out of good intenetions, however the experiment was obviously failing.

"It's a good intention. It’s one of those experiments that we wanted to say: in 20 years, this is what we experimented on.

"It's one of the attempts that we did, and other countries are coming to the same conclusion that we are coming to: that it doesn’t work very well and therefore we retrieved just in time," he said.

ANC MP Meriam Phaliso told the meeting of the "very rude" reception the portfolio committee had when it visited the Mangaung prison.

"The person who runs that centre was very rude to the portfolio committee. He even made us understand that this is my space, it’s not Parliament, he said that to us when I was raising a question to him," said Phaliso.

She added that she has been at the forefront of a debate about these public-private partnerships and the risk the state was running with them.

"The funding we are spending at these PPPs … while the department’s correctional centres are in a dilapidating state because we are not renovating them, we are busy giving money to these PPPs. That was not a welcome thing to do – that mistake – we must correct."

Smith added that it was the sentiment of the committee that they are not in favour of the PPPs.

Public-private partnership
The government entered into a public-private partnership to construct, maintain and manage the Mangaung facility in 2000.

Ndebele said they will be meeting with the Bloemfontein Corrections Consortium – which is responsible for the Mangaung prison – next Tuesday.

"The relationship between the department and the Bloemfontein Corrections Consortium is governed by a concession contract, which details services to be rendered, as well as minimum compliance in terms of the law and contract, and there are consequences for any breach of contract."

He said as per the contract, the ownership of the facilities will revert to the state in July 2016.

Ndebele said: "This PPP experiment seems to be showing that the desired results are not being realised, and the Department of Correctional Services will continue to engage all affected parties."

"We want this experiment to succeed and want to ensure that not only the minimum standards are maintained but better standards are maintained."

Ndebele said they ordered an investigation immediately after reading M&G reports.

"As per the Geneva Convention, cruel treatment and torture of inmates, including outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment should not be tolerated," said Ndebele.

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