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Wackenhut to Build Prison in South Africa

The Wackenhut Corrections Corporation completed an agreement with South African government to build and operate a 3,024 bed maximum security prison in that country. The prison, expected to be opened in early 2002, is the first venture in Africa for the Floridabased company, which operates forprofit gulags across the United States as well as in Great Britain,Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean.

The 25 year contract, which is valued by the South African government at about $245 million, including $45 million in construction costs, was signed August 12, 2000 in Pretoria. The cost of construction is to be financed by a consortium of South African banks. The prison will be located in the far northern town of Louis Trichardt.

South African prisons are desperately overcrowded, so in 1997, the government began soliciting bids to build and manage four private prisons.

Wackenhut and its local partners, incorporated as South African Custodial Services, bid for the right to build and operate three of the prisons and won two-of the bids, including the planned prison at Louis Trichardt.

Three weeks after signing this contract, the South African government announced it would release 18,000 prisoners to relieve overcrowding of a prison system built to house 101,006 prisoners but packed with more than 170,000.

There are about 60,000 prisoners awaiting trial in South Africa. Many spend years behind bars awaiting trial because of logjams in the under funded criminal justice system. Some 11,000 of these pre-trial prisoners who had been granted bail of up to $140 but were too poor to pay would be the first to be released, said Ben Skosana, the correctional services minister. Another 7,000 "low risk" prisoners will have their parole dates moved up.

In choosing Wackenhut to operate at least on of its new prisons, South African officials are turning to a company that has become a high profile target of criticism over how some of its prisons in the United States have been run. Texas authorities reclaimed control of a Wackenhut-run prison in Austin after a dozen former employees were indicted on charges of sexually assaulting and harassing prisoners. And authorities in Louisiana transferred the entire population of a a juvenile prison run by Wackenhut after federal investigators contended that juveniles there were routinely brutalized and deprived of adequate food and clothing.

South African officials say the safeguards they have incorporated into their contract with Wackenhut will ensure that their new private prisons are properly run.

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