Cheaper, better, and more accountable? Twenty-five years of prisons privatisation in Victoria

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Abstract

Twenty-five years after the Kennett government began privatising prisons, Victoria has the world's highest proportion of prisoners in private prisons. When the privatisation project began, it was confidently expected that privately managed prisons would be cheaper, better, and more accountable than traditional public sector provision. This paper examines whether those anticipated benefits have been realised. In doing so, we assess system-wide operating costs, specific measures of performance, and accountability of the prison system between 1992 and 2017. Using publicly available data, we conclude temporary lower costs occurred but have not been sustained. Similarly, performance improvements are mixed, and enhanced accountability is contested. Although the performance information now available on Victoria's prisons is superior to what was available in the pre-privatisation era, successive Victorian governments have also overseen arrangements that severely curtail dissemination of such data. This has restricted the capacity of Parliament and the public not only to hold government to account for the operations of the prison system, but also to evaluate the efficacy and impact of the prisons privatisation project. We conclude a more definitive assessment will only be possible when current limitations on accessing performance and other data are lifted enabling greater public scrutiny of Victoria's prison system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-595
Number of pages19
JournalAustralian Journal of Public Administration
Volume78
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Keywords

  • accountability
  • operational costs
  • performance measurement
  • prisons
  • privatisation

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