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Saturday 10 October 2015

P&R: Serco and transgender prisoner safety

Posted in: Comment, Features
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 5th October 2015

Serco, the British-based private prison facilities corporation, has been involved in another apparent case of operational failure, following the alleged rape of a transgender prisoner at Auckland South Corrections Facility. What is Serco, why is it allowed to continue to operate New Zealand prisons despite its lamentable safety record and how does the history of transgender prisoners’ rights fit into this situation?

Serco is headquartered in Hook, Hampshire in the United Kingdom. It is a large-scale beneficiary of international privatisations, and is involved in running private and public transport services, traffic control, aviation, military weapons, prisons, detention centres and schools. Unfortunately, it also has a history of operational problems, failures and fatal errors in its service provision. However, this article will focus primarily on its operation of private prisons across its client base.

In September 2013, Wikipedia notes that Serco was charged with negligence when it came to prevention of sexual abuse of immigrants at Yarls Wood Detention Centre, which it operated. In August 2014, the organisation was also accused of workplace exploitation of women at the facility, paying them as little as one pound per hour for their work. Natasha Walter, co-ordinator of Women for Refugee Women, has slammed the miserable safety record of Serco, arguing that the organisation was "clearly unfit to run an organisation where vulnerable women are held and it is unacceptable that the government continues to entrust Serco with the safety of women who are survivors of sexual violence." Given the recent event at Auckland South Corrections, Ms Walters comments can only be echoed within our own context.

When it comes to running healthcare services, however, endangerment became fatality. Serco was forced to withdraw from running pathology laboratories and made fatal errors in maintenance of patient records at St Thomas Hospital in Central London. The company also falsified 252 patient records while running a general practitioners out of hours service in Cornwall. The Care Quality Commission found that it was highly understaffed and kept poor records of patients. There is no evidence that it compromised patient safety, but the potential for mishap was obviously there.

Returning to the question of privatised prison facilities, Serco runs private correctional operations in Hesse (Germany), Acacia Prison (Western Australia) and Borallon Correctional Facility (Queensland). However, it is the detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia where controversy has arisen about the poor standard of its service provision and delivery in that country, as it runs the Christmas Island and Villawood detention centres. When it comes to Christmas Island, the Union of Christmas Island Workers catalogued a long list of operational failures, including staff brutality, custodial deaths, self-harm and deterioration of the quality of accommodation at the facility. Understaffing is a particular problem there. Moreover, there are one thousand children detained at that particular facility- and horrific allegations of child sexual abuse there. Under former federal Australian Minister of Immigration and Deportation Scott Morrison (who is now the federal Australian Treasurer), the draconian Migration and Maritime Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Seeker Caseload) Act 2014 has centralised ministerial control of asylum seeker detention facilities, resulting in an operational information blackout- conveniently also masking any further mismanagement at Serco-run detention facilities.

Finally, when it comes to New Zealand, there is obviously the woeful instance of the Mount Eden Remand Prison and its in-house fight clubs, lax enforcement of alcohol and drug regulations and questions about staff ethics and career pasts. After the disclosure of fight clubs in July 2015, Mount Eden was returned to Department of Corrections operation. However, Serco was also entrusted with building a new high security male prison in Wiri, in Southwest Manukau. That became operational in July 2015 and is contracted to SecureFuture, a consortium run by Serco.

What about transgender prisoners’ rights? The issue has been circulating within the political arena for the last two years, ever since indefatigable lawyer Kelly Ellis and colleagues at the Equal Justice Project released devastating information about widespread rape, sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation within gender inappropriate male prisons where transwomen were incarcerated. The report recommended that the Corrections Prison Service Operating Manual, Corrections Act 2004 and Corrections Regulations 2005 should be amended to insure higher standards of risk management and prisoner safety for transitioning transwomen prisoners, including recognition of urgency in transferal out of male prisons to female correctional facilities.

Then-Corrections Minister Anne Tolley recognised that there was a legitimate question of risk management and urgency, and accordingly amended her department's policies on 30 July 2013. However, an Oamaru transwoman was still sentenced to a male prison after being found guilty of assault- which led to an application from her lawyer to remit her client to a gender-appropriate imprisonment facility. As recently as August 2015, however, transgender prisoner Jade Follett was still placed at risk of sexual assault at Rimutaka Men's Prison merely because a Corrections staff member who was processing her application went on leave, delaying the action on her application for two months. Corrections staff were apologetic, as was current Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-Iiga. No Pride in Prisons had threatened a hunger strike if there wasn't urgent action on Jade's case, although bringing the issue to public attention resulted in rapid remedy. Admittedly, neither of those events occurred at a Serco-run facility.

No Pride In Prisons spokesperson Emelie Rakete says the rape victim at the Serco facility at Wiri was a transwoman. She is said to have been removed from protective custody and was released into the general population, where it’s claimed she was assaulted by seven male prisoners, before allegedly being sexually assaulted by her cellmate.

Northern Corrections Regional Commissioner Jeanette Burns says the woman is now in a safe and secure healthcare facility, although it is unhelpful that her comments repeatedly misgendered the inmate in question. Rakete says the transgender rape victim should have been assigned to a woman's prison, saying she is receiving hormone treatment, with the full knowledge of Corrections. Although Rakete believes that it is overall Corrections policy that is at fault here, Serco's above-cited track record suggests that it has questionable quality assurance standards when it comes to risk management, detainee safety and especially when it comes to violence against women, whether ciswomen or transwomen. Corrections are conducting their own inquiry into the event.

Given the earlier Jade Follett case cited above, the Department of Corrections urgently needs to review and reform its prisoner management practices when it comes to transferring transwomen out of potential high-risk situations from male sexual predators in facilities like Auckland South Corrections as quickly as is practicable. However, based on the disturbing and repetitious track record of maladministration, poor risk management and record keeping demonstrated by Serco in past instances in Australia and the United Kingdom, and the fact that it has already needed to be removed from administration of Mount Eden Remand Prison due to mismanagement there, questions need to be asked about the privatisation and service tendering process that awarded service provision to Serco in the first place.


"Transwoman allegedly raped in men's prison" Gaynz.Com: 03.10.2015: _17382.php

Craig Young: "The Transgender Prisoners Debate" Gaynz.Com: 10.07.2013: 13620.php

"Corrections: Trans prison policy is in place" Gaynz.Com: 03.04.2014: 14860.php

"Trans inmate moved to women's jail" Gaynz.Com: 27.08.2015: article_17240.php

Serco corporate website: http://

No Pride In Prisons: http://www.

Wikipedia/Serco: http://en.wikipedia org/wiki/Serco

Felicity Lawrence: "Serco gave NHS false data 252 times" Guardian: 20.09.2012: serco-nhs-false-data-gps

Shane Croucher: "Sick of Serco: Meet the Protestors Outside the Outsourcing Giant's London AGM" International Business Times: 14.05.2014: london-agm-1447747

Randeep Radesh: "NHS Lab Failures Followed Serco takeover" BBC News: 30.09.2013: -labs-takeover-failures

Mark Townsend: "Detainees at Yarls Wood Detention Centre Face Sexual Abuse" Observer: 14.09.2013: /uk-news/2013/sep/14/detainees-yarls-wood-sexual-abuse

"Serco chair to leave troubled government contractor" BBC News: 14.11.2014: business-30078116

Patrick O'Keefe: "Nightmare at Christmas Island: Australia's Australian Detention Centre" Corpwatch: 25.10.2011: php?id=15664

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 5th October 2015

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