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Private prison plan protested

Friday, 3rd April, 2009

Local Correctional Services officers and State MP John Williams said yesterday that they were worried that the State Governmment might privatise the Broken Hill jail. The officers joined their colleagues around the State yesterday in a strike to protest against the government's plans to sell the Parklea and Cessnock jails to private companies. The State's prisons were manned by executive staff during the 24-hour strike which finished at 10 o'clock last night. The strike had no affect on local court proceedings as there was only one matter on the list yesterday - a civil claims hearing.

In Sydney Mr Williams joined hundreds of prison workers in a march on Parliament House in protest against the plans. Chanting "Sack Ron Woodham" (the corrective services commissioner) and "Mr Rees, don't sell our keys", they marched from Hyde Park down Macquarie St and stopped outside the gates of state parliament. Mr Williams said he was "totally against" any proposal to privatise NSW Jails and was very happy to give his support to the workers. "I strongly believe prisons should not be privatised to be a profit making institution," he said.

"I was very happy today to walk in protest and join members of the Correctional Service of NSW and to hear their concerns about what the Labor Government is trying to do to the prisons in Cessnock and Parklea and to avoid this possibility ever happening to prisons in the Murray-Darling electorate." The Government has not announced plans to privatise any jails in far west but Mr Williams said it could happen. "What is stopping them from trying to privatise other correctional facilities centres in NSW including those of Broken Hill and Ivanhoe?

"This would be a horrible situation for both towns. Ivanhoe Correctional facility employs locals as trained correctional officers and administrational staff so the possibility of this ever happening would have a big effect on local employment, while a security firm running a jail would be potentially damaging to the inmate population. "Should the Government inexplicably decide it wants to privatise for example Broken Hill jail, it would leave 49 people out of work as 75 per cent of the workforce are locals.

"Government has not mentioned this will happen at any time in the future but who knows, I'm sure the staff of Parklea and Cessnock didn't think it would happen there either." There are seven privately run jails in Australia. A spokesman for the Broken Hill Prison Officer Vocational Branch said not only did Correctional Officers and staff have concerns about jail privatisation but the inmates themselves were afraid that security companies would not bother with the prisoners' rehabilitation. "It is crucial prisoner rehabilitation is at the forefront of any prisoner program," he said.

"How do private security companies know about the intricate management details and specifics on how to effectively run a correctional service facility? "Correctional Officers in Broken Hill normally go through three month training, over 10 weeks learning the different facets of Correctional Officer duties including how to deal with inmates, facilitation of inmate problems and how to operate internal security systems. "How is a general security guard with none of this experience supposed to know this information, let alone to have the knowledge and education on prisoner development and rehabilitation?

The spokesman was among 38 people including representatives from the local jail, the hospital and the Nurses Association who attended a meeting at the Musicians' Club in support of those rallying in Sydney. Cessnock jail in the Hunter Valley and Sydney's Parklea jail are slated for sale later this year. The Public Service Association (PSA) says it is an attempt to break the unions, whose members the government has accused of rorting the overtime system. Former Unions NSW boss and now NSW Corrections Minister, John Robertson, defended the sell-off plan in parliament.

"Changes to the operation at Cessnock and Parklea jails do not amount to privatisation, as it is commonly understood," said Mr Robertson, whose campaign against electricity privatisation led to Mr Iemma being ousted as premier. "The taxpayers will continue to own the bricks and mortar, the real estate and all of the assets. "It's important we're getting value for taxpayers, and we're going to save $63 million for the taxpayers of NSW with these reforms."

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