A pilot program in Australia will see a state government pay the operator of a private women’s prison a bonus for every convict who manages to keep a clean record for two years after being released.
The program is focused on western Australia’s newest women’s prison, which is one of three private prisons in the state and is run by international conglomerate Sodexo. The company has a two-decade record of providing detention services for the UK government.
The operator will receive 15,000 Australian dollars (US$11,000) for every inmate who stays on the right side of the law for two years after release, provided that the number of such women is above a specified level. At present, a third of all women prisoners in Australia end up reoffending.
According to Rebecca Hamilton, director of strategic policy at western Australia’s Department of Corrective Services, the initiative may solve overcrowding issues in the state penitentiary.
“We’ve had issues with women sleeping on the floor, but rather than just put more beds in the system, we thought this was the opportunity for us to actually go for broke and get something in place based on all of the good research that’s out there about what makes a difference, particularly for women,” Hamilton tells the ABC.
She says the UK has had notable success with a similar program, and Australia aims to follow its lead.
“So basically what we’re saying to Sodexo is if you can successfully provide programs for a woman so she doesn’t reoffend then we’ll pay you more for that than we will for a woman who comes back into the system,” she explains.
There is also a racial dimension: one in two inmates in state prisons is Aboriginal. Suffering from a common set of problems such as domestic violence and substance abuse, they are prone to reoffending and returning to the prison system. This cycle needs to be broken, rehabilitation workers say.
“Unless someone actually understands why they do this [reoffend], knows the triggers of why they respond to the way they do… and then takes responsibility to do the right thing in the future, then it’s very hard for us,” Jenni Collard, who is part of the team leading the department’s prisoner program, told the ABC.
Sodexo won the contract to run the 256-bed facility in June. The two other private prisons in the state are Acacia and Wandoo, both run by the UK firm Serco. The new site cost A$24.6 million to build as a replacement for Hakea Prison in Melaleuca, a suburb of Perth. Sodexo penned a five-year contract with the possibility of two extensions of up to five years each.
The government’s pick of yet another private operator over a public sector bid was criticised by trade unions at the time, which claimed the decision was partially motivated by ideology, according to Business News Western Australia.
“The government is basically telling experienced public sector staff that they are not up to the dup of managing the new prison, and it would prefer to give the contract to one of the world’s largest multinational corporations instead,” said WA Prison Officers’ Union secretary John Welch.
Western Australia has 15 prisons with a combined total population of close to 6,300 inmates.