The Dirty 30 | #11 Fines, Failures and Scandal: Chased Out Of Australia

In 2013, Corrections Corporation of America is "celebrating" its thirtieth anniversary.  We believe there is nothing to celebrate about 30 years of profiting off of incarceration.  In response Grassroots Leadership and Public Safety and Justice Campaign published "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America," a list of thirty stories that exhibit the most troubling aspects of the company's history.  Each week we'll highlight one of these stories.  Click here to view the full report.  Printed copies are available in limited quanitity.  For more information please contact Kymberlie Quong Charles.

CCA’s global aspirations were also focused on the Australian market where, in 1989, the company formed the joint venture, Corrections Corporation of Australia Pty. Ltd. CCA again earned itself further distinction internationally, this time in the state of Victoria, as the only private prison operator to have had a government buy out its contracts due to failure.

CC Australia made significant inroads into the prison market and was awarded several management contracts including one in December 1994 to finance, design, build and operate Melbourne’s 125-bed Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Center (MWCC). The prison opened in August 1996 despite large anti-privatization protests. It was only a month before concerns were raised about safety standards, working conditions and substantially decreased salary levels in comparison to the public sector.[1] MWCC was plagued by a catalogue of failures under CC Australia’s management including documented reports by the Federation of Community Legal Centers (FCLC) of the brutalization of a remand and protection prisoner, the widespread prevalence of drugs, the denial of adequate clothing and access to medical treatment to women at the center, as well as allegations that women were subjected to humiliating strip searches.[2] The FCLC also quoted media reports that CC Australia was attempting to escape government penalization by covering up incidents of abuse.

MWCC’s performance was characterized by numerous reports of staff misconduct. For example, the first general manager at MWCC reportedly sat intoxicated on the floor outside a cell, attempting to persuade the woman inside to come out[3]. Another report highlighted the frequent improper use of tear gas on women at the center, even on prisoners handcuffed in a prison van[4] and a pregnant woman.[5] Following further incidents, including the death of 23-year-old Paula Richardson in 1998, an external audit of MWCC’s health service by the Department of Human Services found there was no maintenance of clinical standards, the prison was understaffed and under-resourced, and that self harm risk assessments were inadequate.[6] In 2000, Victoria’s government commissioned two reports that looked into private prisons, one of which was an independent investigation into the management and operation of Victoria’s three private prisons, known as the Kirby Report. [7] Key findings at MWCC detailed a lack of safety for both prisoners and visitors, the overall impression that staff were not in control, minimal experience and expertise amongst staff and inadequate physical facilities.

On October 3, 2000, the government invoked emergency powers to take control of operations at MWCC. Citing the failure of CCA “to appreciate the full range of their contractual obligations”,[8] as well as a catalogue of operational problems and policy flaws, the government terminated the contract with Excor principals Corrections Corporation of America and Sodexho on October 30, 2000, taking the ownership and operation of MWCC into the public sector. Meanwhile, in Queensland, a 1999 commission of inquiry found that CC Australia’s existing contracts (including at Borallon and Wackenhut subsidiary ACM at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre) “did not reflect best practice”[9] and the government ended CC Australia’s involvement in the state in 2000. Following the loss of its Australian contracts, and leaving a wake of negative and controversial findings, CCA sold its 50 percent holdings in CC Australia to Sodexho in 2000, instead focusing its attention on the United States.

  1. “Jail staff in union talks,” Australian, September 19, 1996.
  2. 12 Months At Australia’s First Private Women’s Prison, Media Conference, August 10, 1997, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic) Inc.
  3. Victorian Hansard, 5 December 1996.
  4. Freedom of Information request by Essendon community Legal Centre 1997.
  5. Federation of community Legal Centres Submission to the Russell Review 2000, MWCC Commissioner’s Monthly Compliance Report, October 1999, released October 2000.
  6. Report to Department of Human Services of Health Services MWCC Clinical Audit, July 2000.
  7. Audit review of Government Contracts, Contracting, Privatisation, Probity and Disclosure in Victoria 1992-1999, An Independent Report to Government, May 2000. Report of the Independent Investigation into the Management and Operations of Victoria’s Private Prisons (The Kirby Report), October 2000.
  8. Correctional Services Commissioner’s Report on Metropolitan Women’s Correctional Centre’s Compliance with its Contractual Obligations and Prison Services Agreement, Office of the Correctional Services Commissioner, Department of Justice, No. 40, Session 1999-2000, September 13, 2000.
  9. Corrections in the Balance: A Review of Corrective Services in Queensland, January 1999.