The Business of Private Prisons

Event time: 
Friday, April 23, 2021 - 11:30am to 1:30pm
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Event description: 

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Yale Poynter Fellow Khadija Sharife will discuss private prisons in South Africa with fellow investigative journalists Ruth Hopkins and Edwin Naidoo. Ruth Hopkins wrote the book *Misery Merchants* (Life and death in a private South African prison), about G4S-run Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein. She began looking into allegations of abuse and violence at Mangaung in 2012 and uncovered widespread use of electroshocking, forced medication with anti-psychotic drugs, and lengthy isolation of inmates in the prison. Shortly after her investigation began, a strike by prison officers led to a security crisis in the prison and the South African state correctional department. An inquiry ensued, but there were few real consequences for G4S.
Edwin Naidoo has followed up on Ruth’s research and has written about Mangaung prison since her book came out. He has also written extensively about the prevalence of violence in South Africa’s prisons.
Mangaung is the second largest private prison in the world. Located in Bloemfontein, South Africa, the prison holds around 3,000 prisoners.  It was completed in 2001 and is run by G4S, under a 25 year contract to operate this maximum security facility. 
In many countries, private companies like G4S now have significant interests in the running of prisons, as well as probation services, immigration detention centres and psychiatric clinics. Reports of malpractice and abuse are often suppressed: investigative journalists and academic researchers play a seminal role in uncovering the attendant realities of this rapidly growing industry, filling the gaps left by lack of transparency and weak governmental oversight.
Ruth’s work also features in the searing documentary film, ‘Prison for Profit’. The film involved collaboration between Ruth and filmmakers Femke and Ilse Van Velzen, based in the Netherlands. In the film, former prisoners as well as prison guard whistle-blowers paint a shocking picture of conditions at Mangaung, with one prison officer involved in torture speaking out about his actions, as well as former inmates who were badly assaulted and forcibly injected describing their harrowing experiences. ‘Prison for Profit’ exposes the ugly realities of privatized detention facilities in which chronic understaffing and lack of accountability led to conditions in which such traumatic events could take place.
Journalists’ network 
Ruth and the film makers have established a network of around 25 investigative journalists in about 20 countries, the Private Security Network, which is investigating G4S and its immigration contracts, its global prison operations, its activities in war zones and various other security services. Journalists are producing national stories on G4S as well as collaborating to produce global stories on the company, for example, an Al-Jazeera piece on how G4S treats its employees across six countries, and an investigation into deaths among people working for, or under detention in facilities run by G4S.
An encrypted leak platform has also been set up, with the help of Free Press Unlimited and SOMO (an NGO that investigates multinationals), to encourage further whistle-blowers to come forward. In the future, the network will continue to produce work on other multinational security providers.
Further information 
‘Prison for Profit’, trailer:… 
‘The Misery Merchants: Life and Death in a Private South African Prison’…  
Private Security Network

Khadija Sharife and Ruth Hopkins