‘Prison for Profit’: documentary film screening and panel discussion, 4 December

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26 Nov 2020

Event details 

Date: 4 December 2020: 18.25 – 19.45 (GMT)

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Event: Online panel discussion & questions: hosted by Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image and the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research, School of Law, Birkbeck.

Free pre-screening: The film will be made available for viewing by those registered to attend the panel discussion. A link to the film will be emailed to registered attendees and will be accessible from 15:00, 2nd December to 15.00, 4th December.

After the screening, there will be a panel discussion with Ruth Hopkins, who will be joined by one of the former Mangaung inmates featured in the film, together with experts on prison privatisation. Audience questions from 19.15 GMT.


  • Ruth Hopkins – journalist whose work is featured in the film
  • Godfrey ‘Yoba’ Botsana – activist, former inmate at Mangaung
  • Lauren-Brooke (“LB”) Eisen – Director, Justice Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Tessa Gregory – partner and human rights lawyer, Leigh Day solicitors
  • Johnbosco Nwogbo – campaigns officer, We Own It
  • Chair:  Mark Heywood – human rights and social justice activist, editor of Maverick Citizen

Background ‘Prison for Profit’

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.

One such journalist is Ruth Hopkins, who began looking into allegations of abuse and violence at Mangaung in 2012. Ruth’s investigation 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.

Ruth has written a book about her investigation: ‘The Misery Merchants: Life and Death in a Private South African Prison’ was published on 1 September 2020.

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 privatised 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 30 investigative journalists in 25 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’ https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-misery-merchants/ruth-hopkins//9781431429363

Private Security Network: www.privatesecurity.network

Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research: https://www.icpr.org.uk

ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme: https://www.icpr.org.uk/theme/prisons-and-use-imprisonment