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When jails fail will a bigger one in Goulburn succeed?

By John Thistleton 13 February 2018 11
Paul Watson

Paul Watson selling his concept of a new jail model to drive the economy at Goulburn. Photo: John Thistleton.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 14 February), the head of a multi-national consortium proposing a new jail to remedy chronic overcrowding in NSW prisons will urge Goulburn businesses to fight for the project.

Paul Watson will present to Goulburn Chamber of Commerce the economic benefits, including up to 600 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional activity over the next 30 years.

Hearing his pitch for a 2000-inmate jail, that can scale up to 5000 inmates over time, has not changed my view a bigger prison will not solve the alarming over-crowding in NSW jails, or the rising rates of re-offending. I believe the solution is outside prison cells, beginning with addressing poverty and illiteracy at the earliest point of a person’s life.

Nevertheless, the consortium, Southern Infrastructure, is receiving a good hearing in Goulburn.

Mr Watson says since the existing Goulburn Jail was built in the 1850s the town has learned to live with it and won’t mind another one. If the community doesn’t want it, he will walk away from the project and play golf.

Mr Watson says his new model jail will lift prisoners’ self-esteem. Every day they will spend 16 hours outside their cells whereas today they have on average two hours outside. Education and support will enable more of them to take their place in society again, rather than re-offending.

The proponent says his rehabilitation strategy is similar to new jail models at Wellington and Grafton. Grafton will be run by a multi-national consortium, Northern Pathways, which includes the operator, international services company Serco.

Serco will be the operator in Goulburn too. Its track record running Australian detention centres, in my opinion, hardly fits a reformist agenda. But Mr Watson says Serco is the best in the business.

“We are using the same architect (as Grafton’s), our architect and our consortium have worked on something like 43 of the 45 correctional facilities in NSW,” Mr Watson says. “They are state-of-the-art, using world best practices to get the best result for the money spent to get prisoners back into mainstream society.”

If the government feels too dependent on Serco, the proponent can mix and match to suit, including employing Corrective Services personnel. The proposed site comprises 263 hectares where Mr Watson was previously involved in a proposal that never eventuated, to build a warehouse and logistics hub. He says this project stems from a 2016 Justice Department report, ‘Full House’ which estimates NSW will need 18,000 prison beds by 2020. There are now 13,500 prison beds. “It was simple economics. How are they going to get the number of beds they require to accommodate demand?” he says.

The proposed Argyle Correction Centre is not a replacement for the existing Supermax jail in Goulburn. Mr Watson says Supermax has a unique workforce to manage the prisoners. “My feeling is eventually it will run out of its useful life and will have to be replaced or moved or changed.”

Planning approval could happen at the stroke of the Minister’s pen, creating a surplus land bank to co-locate services to help prepare inmates for life outside.

“Most people can see it is a good project, some people always see a negative in a positive, and the idea is to convince them, it is not negative, it is actually positive,’’ says Mr Watson. He previously spent eight years in the Middle East building large projects and says building a jail is a straight forward engineering exercise. The complex bit is enlisting educational and health professionals and other experts. He says these people will be drawn from a wide area, from Wollongong, Canberra, Sydney and overseas.

“I think people in Corrective Services are grossly overloaded with work just to maintain an over-capacity system,” he says. “Prisons are so overcrowded that the energy of good people running them is absorbed just maintaining it.

We are trying to give them that capacity to get ahead of the game in the whole system.”

Mr Watson says his model depends on efficiency from creating an environment which allows people to re-address the issues they have and come back into society. “Yes, people make money out of this, but they have to provide outcomes as well,” he says.

Do you think establishing another correctional facility in Goulburn is a good idea? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.

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When jails fail will a bigger one in Goulburn succeed?
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Roger Smith 1:20 pm 16 Feb 18

Whilst I have nothing principle against the idea there are some points to consider. 1 This is the Kevin Costner "if you build it they will come" idea. In other words if you build a 2000 bed prison it will soon be full and then if it can be expanded to 5000 that will inevitably follow. This is not necessarily because crime is on the increase but because you have space and you want to fill it so more "law'n'order" elections can be expected. 2 If you put a private organisation in charge of a prison it has an obligation to its share holders to create profit and pay them dividends so rehabilitation is not an attractive option - prisoners need to either stay in gaol or keep coming back. 3 Serco do not have a great track record when it comes to treating people properly - the scandals with refugees do not augur well them. 4 Goulburn seems to be undergoing something of a boom with new housing estates being approved at a rapid rate. The lure of jobs in a gaol might be a short term attraction but the city needs a more diversified economy rather than one whose biggest employer is Corrective Services and its private associates. I am not in a position to suggest where the jobs might come from, that is a matter for the Council, the state and federal members but I suggest more jobs that involve keeping people behind bars is a cheap, lazy option.

    David Smith 1:47 pm 16 Feb 18

    Roger I have a friend you know & one you don't. the one you don't told me that "Prison" (QLD) actually got better when it was taken over by private interests. I always found this a interesting point of view but could not argue the point with him because he was a long term user of the system and the points he shared with me seemed to be valid. Sometimes, sometimes taking things out of public hands is an improvement - I can't name very many/any but there you are - perception is reality or so it seems. I take your point that no "economy' should be too dependent on any one industry. All be that ours has been dependent on "Consumption" for way to long

    Roger Smith 2:03 pm 16 Feb 18

    David Smith If we keep passing laws that take discretion from the judiciary in terms of sentencing options and insist that every offence result in a custodial sentence we will always have and need gaols. According to posts on FB the Netherlands has been able to close gaols, combine male and female prisons into one with seemingly few problems or convert unused prisons into hotels. If there is even a kernel of truth in this then the questions to be asked are; Are the Dutch including natives and immigrants naturally more honest than us or what is that they are doing in their society and in their prisons that mean they need less not more beds for crims. Followed by if the Dutch are having the alleged success in reduction the number of prison beds then what is we might learn from them. I believe the same is the case in Norway. It is worth noting that in an area the size of a postage stamp the Dutch accommodate 17m people and Norway has a population of about 6 million (the same as a NSW). It should be further noted that both countries are governed by right of centre coalition govts who are generally not known for their soft approach to crime or crims. In the case of Goulburn as I said a diversified economy rather than one that relies on locking people up to drive its progress ought to be the aim.

Maryann Weston 1:07 pm 14 Feb 18

Privatised prisons are not the answer. Elected governments need to take their responsibilities to all in society seriously. Goulburn already has one prison, including a super max. My vote is to chase tertiary training and study courses/facilities...now that’s an idea worth pursuing. It should be remembered by the business community in Goulburn who are eyeing off potential profits through a development like this, and perhaps supporting the developer who wants to profit from incarceration, that they do not speak for the citizens of Goulburn, and never have.

Warwick Alsop 12:45 pm 13 Feb 18

Both. Any policy to turn society on it's head to reduce the amount of offenders is basically a fantasy. It's never been done and those that have an impact take generations to reap benefits.

Andrew Satrapa 10:20 am 13 Feb 18

Prisons are a big money spinner for private consortium owners in America - so watch them setting up their private jails in this country - they will get government approval no matter what we say....

Margaret Simpson 7:55 am 13 Feb 18

I agree with John Thistleton. If you build a jail you then need to fill it. Look at the US. All private jails that need to make a profit and the way to make a profit is through prisoners. Decent living standards means less people need to commit crime to live.

Andrea Kerr 7:29 am 13 Feb 18

The solution in time will be outside prisons however in the years it takes and sometimes generations of families to change attitudes and behaviour means we need somewhere to house these people now.

    David Murn 8:36 am 13 Feb 18

    Sure, but is it really a good idea to take someone whos been involved in minor crimes, and lock them up with lifelong criminals so that they A) hate the system even more and B) learn how to be a real criminal?

    As George Jung (Pablo Escobars US distributor) once said "It wasn't a prison, it was a crime school. I went in with a Bachelor of marijuana, came out with a Doctorate of cocaine."

    Andrea Kerr 7:44 pm 13 Feb 18

    David Murn sure for minor crimes I think avoid jail initially the answer, however there are those that waive that chance by the severe nature of their crimes or repeated actions. Unfortunately we won’t ever be able to do away with prisons.

Mataio Thor-Sa 7:21 am 13 Feb 18

Dont want it in Goulburn

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