Australian Institute of Criminology

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Private prisons: value for money?

Media Release

22 April 1998

"The issue of privatisation of prisons remains a subject of vigorous public debate", said Dr Adam Graycar, in releasing the latest issue in the Australian Institute of Criminology's Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice series. The paper, Private Prisons in Australia: The second phase, discusses the potential benefits of privatisation, but also looks at the specific problems which have occurred around Australia, and whether or not the regulatory regime is working. That privatisation could be beneficial to the prison system as a whole is only possible, it is argued, if there is effective accountability.

The author of the paper is Professor Richard Harding, Director of the Crime Research Centre, University of Western Australia. Harding suggests that privatisation has been the catalyst for a split between the purchaser of prison services (the government) and the provider (sometimes government, sometimes private). The type of contract that operates has also changed with a switch from the management only contracts of the early days to design, construct, finance and manage contracts in some jurisdictions.

Professor Harding suggests that one important way of ensuring better value for each correctional dollar is to relate funding to standards, which would involve the establishment of a National Custodial Standards Agency. This he argues, would provide a mechanism for implementing national standards as well as for public/private sector and inter-jurisdictional cross-fertilisation - a truly integrated system.