Prison Privatisation

Latest News

NSW private prisons return to public sector
Media Release: New Grafton Prison Opening (Clarence Corrections Centre)
Media Release: Private Prison Serco takeover: Royal Commission call
Junee Prison Death
Grafton Private Prison
The Failure of Private Prisons in the US – August 2016
Social Impact Bonds Critique 2016


Privatisation refers to the transfer of ownership and management of prisons from the government to private sector actors. This means that the prison structure – which as a state institution, aims to protect the public good – is now being treated as a business venture. Businesses rely on growth in order to generate profit. It follows that an influx of prisoners will equate to an increase in profits. Justice Action unequivocally believes that higher rates of incarceration are not in the public interest. For this reason, ‘solving’ issues such as overcrowding and resource constraints through the privatisation of prisons is unsustainable, morally questionable and largely counterproductive.

Privatisations of Prisons analysis: what’s the problem?

  • Morally wrong
  • Increases incarceration
  • No transparency
  • Lack of concern for the welfare of prisoners and staff
  • Low standards of care
  • Tendency to adhere to minimum standards
  • Not in the public interest
  • Financially ineffective

The US prison system illustrates the dangers of privatisation. The inflation of the US prison population has coincided with the increased privatisation of prison facilities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 6% of state prisons and 16% of federal prisons are privately run. Currently, the US boasts the highest prison population rate in the world, at 716 per 100,000 people. Despite claims that violent crime has decreased, rates of incarceration have increased. This has resulted in the increased incarceration of minor offenders, including victims of political campaigns such as the War on Drugs. In this sense, reaching prison quotas is achieved through systemic corruption and a blatant rejection of the welfare of the accused individual.

Additionally, the media has exacerbated the growth of corporate power in the US prison system. The media plays a signicant role in shifting public perceptions of the value and function of prison, often employing the language of freedoms and liberties to justify the appauling treatment of those who have abused these rights. A number of prison corporations in the US have been accused of forming alliances with right-wing media channels that disseminate fear into the public sphere. Instilling fear into the community will invariably lead to more validation and support for the expansion of the prison system. A fundamental problem with the US privatised prison system is that it largely ignores prisoner welfare and lacks a genuine consideration for rehabilitation because it stands in direct conflict with the pursuit of corporate interests. In the privatised prison realm, potential reoffenders are viewed as security for the attainment of future profits.

It is clear that the system is in need of reform. However, it is important to evaluate all potential options prior to contracting out a vitally important public institution into the hands of private business.

More from Justice Action

New Zealand Privatisation
NSW Privatisation 2009
Privatisation on an International Level
NSW Proposal for a Private Prison Model
New Zealand’s Mt Eden Correctional Facility Reverts to Public
International Research Proves Prison Privatisation is a Failure

Further Reading

Right Now is a volunteer not-for-profit organisation that focuses on highlighting human rights issues in Australia through accessible and engaging media, believing that a rights-respecting culture begins with the open flow of information. In 2012, they published a damning review of prison privatisation in Australia. Read the report here.

The Sentencing Project, a US not-for-profit organisation involved in research and advocacy for criminal justice issues, published a report in 2013 of the inherent failings of prison privatisation in the US, a model that has been followed by other countries overseas. Read the report here.

The Conversation published the results of a comparative analysis of prisons in Nordic countries, with a wholly public system, and those in English-speaking countries, where private prisons are common. Read the article here.

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