Government surprises by scrapping private prisons

By Carien Du Plessis 28 October 2011

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has caused a stir by announcing the four planned private mega-prisons are no longer needed. But for the bidding consortia it means more than R80 million in the water. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

In a time of economic belt-tightening, it certainly was a wise decision by Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to scrap the four private prisons, which would have housed 12,000 criminals and eased the overcrowding in a prison system bursting at its bars.

Mapisa-Nqakula on Thursday said her department’s policy on private prisons has been reviewed and the original tender specifications “could not accommodate the requirements specified by the review”.

For one, the department no longer wants to outsource the security and running of the prisons, and it wants to create facilities specifically for women and vulnerable groups, such as the mentally ill or elderly.

The existing two private prisons have excelled in rehabilitating prisoners, but Mapisa-Nqakula is concerned that the department has “no control over what happens. At the end of the day, you have no idea what monster we are producing from the correctional facility.”

The department also wants to find ways to reduce the prison population.

Some of the private prisons were planned for towns where they weren’t needed, Lukas Muntingh from the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative said. “We should look at where the most urgent need for prison space is. It’s in Gauteng, rather than Port Shepstone,” he said.

Muntingh also said it would make sense to renovate old prisons and add bed spaces there, or build another facility next to Pollsmoor, on land that already belongs to the Department of Correctional Services.

But private contractors are fuming. The four consortia that tendered for the multi-billion rand contracts, which would have run over 15 to 25 years, have each spent more than R20 million to put together the tender bid.

Contractors said the surprise cancellation will make them think twice before tendering for South African government contracts again. This means that government could miss out on some of the most competent tenderers in future. DM

Photo: Reuters.



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