Prison bill passes first reading

A bill that will allow prisons to be privately managed passed its first reading on a 68-53 vote in Parliament today.

There was a rowdy debate on the bill on Tuesday, when opposition parties clashed with the Government and Labour leader Phil Goff accused National of "blind ideology" driven by an obsession with privatisation.

"It's all about profit for the private sector," he said.

"They believe that somehow private management means better management - they have produced no evidence of that whatsoever."

The previous National government put Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) under private management and when Labour won the 1999 election it refused to renew the contract.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said ACRP had been a success when it was privately managed and said Labour was driven by its own ideology.

Ms Collins said the bill was based on the legislation used to put ACRP under private management, with some improvements.

She said the prison service was going to face huge pressures in coming years and innovative solutions were needed.

But Labour MPs said locking people up was a core responsibility of the state and some even suggested the police and the defence force could be the next victims of privatisation.

The Greens also strongly opposed the bill, saying taxpayer money would go into the pockets of companies which had no interest in rehabilitation programmes.

"Private management incentivises a massive increase in prison populations," said MP Metiria Turei.

"The Government is duping the public, scrutiny of private management will be severely limited."

ACT and the Maori Party backed the bill, which has been sent to the law and order select committee for public submissions.

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