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Union anger as Serco wins long-term Adelaide Remand Centre contract

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The public sector union has expressed dismay after global services company Serco announced it had won the State Government contract to run the Adelaide Remand Centre for seven years, with an option to extend for another five.

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The outsourcing of the prison’s management, one of the key moves in the Marshall Government’s first budget last year, has already resulted in industrial action.

Serco announced the estimated total contract value over the initial seven-year term would be $115 million.

“Serco will begin transition of the facility immediately and full operational service will start in August 2019, ” the company said.

The Public Service Association, slammed the announcement, saying Serco had a poor history in operating private prisons in Australia and overseas.

“The claim by the government that Serco will operate as a ‘centre of excellence’ is a joke,” said PSA general secretary Nev Kitchen.

“Serco’s history is one of scandal, contract breaches, and prisons being returned to public management due to their comprehensive failures.

“The PSA maintains its opposition to prison privatisation because privatisation always leads to reduced safety through increased assaults, increased drug use, increased recidivism, fewer staff with less training.”

Correctional Services Minister Corey Wingard said Serco would have broad responsibilities at the centre, including providing custodial, health, intervention, education and asset maintenance services.

He said Serco would have “penalties and incentives built into its contract”, to make the centre safe and cost-efficient, as well as reduce reoffending.

“This initiative ensures we have an experienced company managing the Adelaide Remand Centre with a clear motive and direction to save taxpayer dollars by lowerring the rate of reoffending,” Wingard said.

“It allows us to potentially save $5-6 million each year. That is money that could be put back into health services and education, for example, or put back into the overall prison system.”

He said there had been no job losses for correctional staff at the remand centre, however, some staff had applied for voluntary redundancy while others had been, or would be, transferred to other prisons.

While Wingard emphasised Serco’s experience in managing Australia’s largest prison, Acacia in WA, the PSA questioned the company’s track record.

Kitchin said Serco’s operation of the South Queensland Correction Centre had been the subject of “scathing criticism” from the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission.

The commission last year criticised the model of the facility’s outsourcing.

“We have flagged corruption risks that arise simply by virtue of the model that is operated by the private sector,” said commission chairman Alan MacSporran.

“You can’t have one overarching framework within which integrity and governance is monitored when you have a public private system.”

The PSA also criticised the working environment of other facilities run by Serco in Australia, and pointed to the company losing its Mt Eden prison contract in New Zealand and being heavily fined by the government.

In the latter case, Serco admitted to a failure to meet contractual standards or its own.

The Mt Eden contract was lost in 2017 after an investigation into alleged assaults and “fight clubs” at the prison.

In a statement, Serco Group chief executive Rupert Soames said the company was pleased to win the Adelaide contract.

“The contract expands what is traditionally undertaken in remand and focusses on providing a broad range of reintegration support services to all prisoners from the very start of the process,” he said.

“In developing our solution, we have drawn on our extensive experience operating correctional facilities within the Australian criminal justice system, as well as in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and will deliver straightforward interventions that deliver long-lasting and positive effects.”

The remand centre will not be the only privately-run prison in South Australia. The medium and low-security Mount Gambier Prison is managed and operated by G4s Custodial Services.

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