Prison Contractor Says Inmates Should Be Given Keys to Cells

A company expected to bid for contracts to operate two jails has backed facilities in which inmates have keys to their cells and are on a first-name basis with their jailers.

Gary Sturgess, research director of the U.K.-based Serco Group, will tell a New South Wales, Australia, parliamentary inquiry Friday that decency, not efficiency, is the main reason to privatize jails.

He says overseas experience shows that prisoners enjoy more privileges — including being given the keys to their own cells — in correctional systems where private and public providers compete, The Australian reports.

Prisoners in these systems spend more time out of their cells and have far greater interaction with their jailers — with whom they are frequently on first-name terms — than in systems where public providers face no competition, Sturgess says.

The results are safer jails and lower rates of reoffending.

Serco is expected to bid for the contracts to operate Cessnock prison, in the Hunter Valley, and Parklea prison, in western Sydney, when the jails are privatized this year.

The company already operates one jail in Victoria and one in Western Australia.

Sturgess's submission to the upper house inquiry links private jail services in Britain to the "decency agenda" pursued by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Contract prisons in the U.K. are more humane, partly because government demanded a higher standard when writing the original contracts, partly because price was not allowed to dominate the procurement process, and partly because the political and policy environment at the time when the market was first established was focused on the quality of prison life," the submission from Serco argues.

He said the inmates in low- and medium-security prisons in Britain had been allowed to hold duplicate keys to their own cells, which improved both efficiency and decency.

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