One of the overseas firms which has joined the race to privately managed two jails in NSW, Parklea and Cessnock, is the Florida based GEO Group.

GEO Group Australia manages correctional facilities at Fulham in Victoria, Junee in NSW and Wacol in Queensland. The company also manages a custody centre in Melbourne and is the primary healthcare provider to nine public prisons in Victoria through Pacific Shores Healthcare.

GEO describes itself as being “at the forefront of private sector correctional management through the provision of modern, well-equipped facilities that feature leading-edge correctional technology and programs.”

The company has a chequered history which may interest the new champion of privatisation John Robertson, former secretary of Unions NSW. “Robbo” replaced Michael Costa as Unions NSW boss and then succeeded him in the NSW Legislative Council. Now he is following in the former Treasurer’s footsteps by implementing the private management of jails in flagrant opposition to NSW Labor Party policy.

In 2007 The Dallas Morning News in Texas conducted a riveting investigation of the GEO Group after one of the operator’s juvenile prisons was closed because of “fetid conditions and alleged mismanagement”.

After the Texas Youth Commission shut the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, removed the inmates and canceled an $8 million annual contract with GEO, reporter Holly Becka found a cavalcade of misadventures in the company’s chequered history, including:

  • An Idaho inmate at the Dickens County prison in northwest Texas slashed his throat after being held for three months in a cold, moldy solitary cell with bloodstained bedding, according to court records.
  • GEO settled a wrongful death case brought by the family of a female inmate at the Val Verde County facility. Plaintiffs alleged the inmate committed suicide after being raped and denied psychiatric care, according to court records.
  • A jury ruled that Wackenhut Corrections Corp., which became GEO, had destroyed evidence of an inmate being beating death at a Willacy County facility and returned a $47.5 million verdict against the company.

GEO’s bid to snare more contracts is being opposed in State Parliament by Greens upper house MP Sylvia Hale, the former book publisher. “Handing over those being punished by the state to the private sector is a dereliction of duty for those the state has deemed to be punished,” she said.

Given the NSW Labor Government’s long-standing hardline against crime, and its refusal to accept an Opposition call for an end to the law and order auction at election time, GEO might just be the partner it needs to bring discipline to the NSW penal system which began its glorious history in 1788 on the shores of Sydney Cove.