WARNING: John Heffernan speaks out on privatising prisions.
WARNING: John Heffernan speaks out on privatising prisions. JoJo Newby

Ex-jail boss warns Grafton: 'You get what you pay for'

FORMER Grafton jail governor John Heffernan has issued a warning about the limitation of private jails.

In an opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph last week, Mr Heffernan was critical of the State Government's seeming obsession with privatising the prison system.

He said a recent incident at the privately managed Parklea Correctional Centre, in which an inmate apparently high on drugs and wielding a home made knife and mobile phone, broadcast his views to the world.

"I'm here to tell you it is something that occurs in our prisons all too often," Mr Heffernan wrote.

"The only difference was, on this particular occasion, the inmate decided to share his stupidity with the rest of us by way of social media,"

"But, in so doing, he may have actually done us all a favour - he has inadvertently exposed what happens when governments become so obsessed with the bottom line they abrogate their responsibilities.

"In my opinion governments have a responsibility to oversee and manage certain aspects of our society, specifically law and order, health and education.

"Some years ago overseas governments discovered a way to sidestep a costly area of law enforcement by handing prisons over to the private sector to manage.

"It didn't take long for Australian governments to adopt the concept and, as we all know by now, our present state government has taken privatisation and the selling off of assets to a new level."

Mr Heffernan said the Clarence Valley community needs to be wary of the promises made about what the new privately run jail will bring to the region.

"For sure the jail is going to be good for the economy with the number of jobs it brings," he said.

"Private jails are in it to make money and the only way they can do it is to cut costs."

He said the incident at Parklea was a direct result of privatisation.

"It is what happens when there are insufficient staff on the ground to monitor the activities of inmates and prevent the introduction of contraband into our jails," Mr Heffernan said.

"Given that staffing represents the major portion of any organisation's budget, it's only natural that running on the minimum number of staff becomes essential to maximising their profits and satisfying their shareholders."

Mr Heffernan said the government had established a new benchmarking system for prison operation, based on a privately run model.

He said this had the effect of lowering the levels of staff safety in publicly run jails closer to the levels in private jails.

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