* Photo supplied. Inside look: One of the Corrections Corporation of America’s 65 jails.
* Photo supplied. Inside look: One of the Corrections Corporation of America’s 65 jails.
Sending Bermuda's most dangerous criminals to private prisons in the U.S. could slash the cost of locking them up by 75 per cent.

The proposal to ship prisoners to jails overseas was put forward by Government to address claims that Westgate is a soft option and no deterrent to the gun-toting thugs causing mayhem on the streets.

But the policy - if it gets off the ground - could be an economic boon as well.

Private prisons are a booming industry in the U.K. and U.S., where security firms boast that they have helped to cut the cost of housing criminals by thousands of dollars.

The Corrections Corporation of America -which operates 65 prisons in 20 states - told us yesterday that costs vary widely with the national average running to around $60 a day per prisoner.

That amounts to just over $20,000 annually - a quarter of the $80,000 yearly cost of locking someone up in Bermuda.

The Nashville-based firm charges a flat, daily rate per prisoner and has deals with local authorities all over the States as well as Federal Law enforcement agencies.

They do not currently take prisoners from overseas but Louise Grant, spokesperson for the firm, said they would be open to discussing contractual arrangements with foreign governments.

She said Bermuda officials should get in touch with chief development officer Tony Grande, if they were serious about the plan.

Neither Premier Dr. Ewart Brown or Public Safety Minister Colonel David Burch where able to provide any details on their proposal at a press conference on Tuesday.

And it remained unclear yesterday whether the idea had gone beyond the discussion stages.

Defence lawyer Mark Pettingill said he had put forward the same proposal several years ago along with figures suggesting private U.S. prisons could be a cheaper option than incarcerating people locally.

The Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP said he was fully behind the plan and urged Government to get on with it. He said some criminals needed a tougher regime than Westgate provided.

The Dockyard facility has long been regarded as 'easy time' by both prisoners and police.

The Premier acknowledged this on Tuesday, saying it was perceived in some quarters as "less than a prison".

One ex-con told the Bermuda Sun criminals could get anything they wanted in jail, "except for women". Some prisoners are known to communicate with friends and family on cell phones while they are inside.

And police officers have previously complained that gang members return from a stretch at Westgate rested, packing 20lbs of extra muscle and ready to resume their criminal activity.

Commissioner of Prisons Colonel Eddie Lamb was off the island yesterday and neither of his assistants would comment.

But Mr. Pettingill said sending prisoners overseas was "not an admission of defeat" over Westgate - just a sensible way of saving cash and adding an extra level of sentencing power for the worst criminals.

He said taking prisoners out of their local environment would make it much tougher for them to maintain links with criminals on the outside or to use their contacts to get drugs.

"It makes sense because it is cheaper and it makes sense from a punitive point of view," he said.

The cost of flying prisoners out to the U.S. on private planes would have to be factored in to the equation. But, based on any cost estimate, it would still be considerably cheaper than Westgate.

Mrs. Grant, vice president of marketing and communications at CCA, said costs varied widely depending on the prison and the level of rehabilitation services provided. Serial sex offenders with complex counselling requirements would be more expensive than regular offenders.

But she insisted that in every instance the firm's private prisons had proved more cost effective than Government-run facilities.

A contract with the state of California reduced the cost from $130 a day per prisoner to $63 a day.

She insisted the prisons were tough but fair.

"Our facilities operate on the basis of fair, humane detention. We do emphasise rehabilitation programmes for the inmates in our care - education, work training, substance abuse treatment, faith based programmes. A lot of our inmates come out with GEDs or trade certificates.

"All of those things are indicators that they will be more productive once they are released."

The U.K. also operates a number of private prisons with firms like G4 security running facilities on a similar model.

Premier Brown and Minister Burch did not respond to requests yesterday for further information on the overseas incarceration policy.

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