Government defends prison contractor

Last updated 19:06 27/05/2012

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The Government is adamant Serco is fit to manage New Zealand prisons, despite the company being investigated in the United Kingdom for "unsafe" practices.

Private prison operator Serco took over running the Mount Eden Prison a year ago and is tipped to run the new Wiri prison in south Auckland.

Serco is under investigation in the UK for allegedly providing an "unsafe" out-of-hours GP service, British newspaper The Guardian reported.

The contractor is also accused of allegedly manipulating results where it failed to meet targets.

The investigation comes after a surprise inspection by the UK’s health service NHS watchdog in Cornwall last month.

On TVNZ's Q+A programme this morning, Finance Minister Bill English defended the Government’s decision to select Serco to run two Auckland prisons.

"We've signed a contractual agreement with them, it's a very tight contractual agreement. For the first time it's aiming public money at getting results," English said.

English said he was confident in the service provided by Serco, which is incentivised to reduce prisoner reoffending.

The Corrections Department last month released a report today on the first eight months of British-based Serco's management.

One prisoner had escaped and two others were wrongfully released after private prison operator Serco took over running the Mount Eden Prison, documents showed.

The firm was fined $150,000 after prisoner Aaron Forden escaped. It was also fined $25,000 for releasing one inmate early and $50,000 for failing to file progress reports.

Random drug testing, prisoner management plans and telephone call monitoring targets were also not reached.

At the time, Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said the report was based on the first few months of the contract and as expected there needed to be some ''bedding in''.

Serco runs a large range of outsourced services for the government and local authorities in the UK.

The contractor confirmed some of the allegations made against it to The Guardian, but denied the service was unsafe.

A Serco representative also told the paper that the allegations are not new and that the claim that performance data have been manipulated has already been rejected by an independent audit.

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- Fairfax Media

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