Prison for Profit


This Dutch production provides an eye-opening look at the human costs of prison privatization, giving former inmates, security guards, and other staff at the Mangaung Prison an opportunity to shed light on a type of rights violation that has largely been underreported by the mainstream press. Directed with methodical rigor by the filmmaking sisters Ilse van Velzen and Femke van Velzen, and following the whistleblowing efforts of investigative journalist Ruth Hopkins to uncover prisoner abuse within South Africa’s first privately run penitentiary (located, ironically, in the province of Free State), Prison for Profit makes the persuasive case that cost-cutting measures on the part of G4S — a British multinational security firm headquartered in London — has created a system of commercialized incarceration in which inmates are exploited as workers and the process of rehabilitation has been outsourced to corporations with little regard for the sanctity of life. The van Velzens weave together heartrending conversations with ex-warders of Manguang, who express guilt over their role in implementing violent forms of torture in order to extract information from prisoners, and leaked surveillance video footage of the latter being beaten and subjected to electroshock. Though difficult to watch, such graphic scenes (including those of young men showing their scars to the camera and discussing their permanent injuries, including dislocated spinal cords) are essential components of the codirectors’ chosen form of mediated truth-telling. In other words, they are as necessary for audiences to witness as any self-incriminating testimony on the part of those profit-driven companies for whom criminality represents an opportunity not to reform convicts but to increase earnings and stock value from their perpetual subjugation.

By David Scott Diffrient


Ilse van Velzen
Femke van Velzen
83 min

(English, subtitles in English)