P3s and social infrastructure: three decades of prison reform in Victoria, Australia

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Once regarded as core public sector business, Australia’s prisons were reformed during the 1990s and Australia now has the highest proportion of prisoners in privately-managed prisons in the world. How could this have happened? This paper presents a case study of the State of Victoria, and explains how P3s were used to create a mixed public-private prison system. Despite the difficulty of determining clear and rigorous evaluation results, we argue that lessons from the Victorian experience are possible. First, neither the extreme fears of policy critics nor the grandiose policy and technical promises of reformers were fully met. Second, short-term success was achieved in political and policy terms by the delivery of badly-needed new prisons. Third, the exact degree to which the state has achieved cheaper, better and more accountable prison services remains contested. As a consequence, there is a need to continue experimentation but with greater transparency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-230
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Works Management & Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • prisons
  • privatization
  • public–private partnerships

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