Profiting From Punishment  Private Prisons in Australia: Reform or Regression by Paul Moyle.  Pluto Press  2000; 461 pp; $32.95 softcover.

   Is the McPrison model a failure ?  Is the private prison system useful in correctional reform, or just another move away from a government having to provide everything ?

Scenario: a corporate criminal  is sent to a private prison in which he is a major shareholder - does it not gives a whole new meaning to receiving dividends ?  It would follow then that more crime would equal more profits, a bit like slavery.

Privatisation in penology is not new to Australia, and our early transportation was based on commercial realities, with the wealthy paying for their private cabins, and the rights of convicts respected as they were  sold on disembarkation - good convicts got good prices.

Private sector involvement in corrections spread from England to the United States, and then to Australia. The largest and most financially successful company in the world has been the Corrections Corporation of America, which moved offshore to Australia, where the first private prison was opened in Borallon near Ipswich,  (Qld)  followed by  Mount Gambier (SA) , and Junee (New South Wales).

The whole process was started when the Queensland Government appointed a Commission of Review into Corrective Services, producing the 'Kennedy Review' which recommended corporatising  prisons departments in Australia. It was only later that the intense debate between the private sector and corrections reform emerged as an important issue.

Paul Moyle is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Western Australia specialising in criminal law, and was a research scholar at Cambridge University. This book is said to the first detailed study of prison privatisation in Australia.  He  aims to  destroy the myth that private prisons are a more efficient and effective way to punish and 'retrain' our prison populations.

Moyle's ethnographic field research was used to collect data from a range of places, and the results compared with a public sector prison. Lotus Glen also in Queensland. In addition to financial aspects, internal factors include looking at better quality inmate programs, reducing recidivism, reducing the number of escapes, as well as reduction in inmate violence. Industrial issues are canvassed, as well as the political and ideological concerns of Governments within each State.

Whatever is perceived as the goal in penology, the criminal justice system is unfortunately here to stay, and Moyle gives an excellent presentation  of whether private prisons are in the realm of reform or regression.

A 'must read'