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Policy reform and the privatisation of justice : an evaluation of the performance of the Victorian privatised prison system 1992-2010

posted on 17.02.2017, 00:04 by Sands, Valarie Jean
Using new public management (NPM) theory as a context, this thesis evaluates the results of successive Victorian government policy initiatives to introduce competition and partly privatise the prison system during the 1992 to 2010 period. The evaluation comprised three performance themes: first, cost; second, conditions and service delivery; and third, accountability. This thesis thus examines the Government's policy promise that the introduction of NPM would advance the prison system's overall performance. Specifically, costs would fall, conditions and service standards would improve, and accountability would be enhanced. Datasets were collected from government sources and used to construct proxy measures for each of the performance criteria. The findings of this study are mixed. First, there was no long-term evidence to support the claim that privatisation initiatives reduced operational costs. While there was a significant initial fall in costs - most likely attributable to a more highly competitive environment -the results also showed a significant rise in operational costs during the 2003/04 to 2009/10 period. Thus, there was no overall decline in operating costs over the period of the study. The reforms slightly improved a limited number of prison conditions. For example, there was a fall in assault rates and a modest improvement in out-of-cell hours, although there are some doubts about the veracity of these findings since much of the data was under-reported or missing. On the other hand, there was a significant fall in vocational education and training opportunities for prisoners. Additionally, the reforms delivered marginal improvements to accountability mechanisms and processes. Minimum standards and service delivery outcomes (SDOs) were introduced. Managerial accountability processes were also improved through the introduction of a state-wide reform program which included output-based budgeting and performance management systems. On the downside, the Office of the Correctional Commissioner (OCSC), which had a steering, governance and regulatory role, was never fully independent. For example, the Minister was not compelled to report any changes in prison conditions to Parliament, and thus adverse developments and problematic incidents could be hidden from the public gaze. Despite these mixed findings, this study signals to policy makers and public managers that a number of problematic issues remain embedded in both the governance and the management of Victoria's prison system. Additionally, this study identified a number of performance gaps. For example, the datasets used to adjudicate on prison conditions and the consequent rehabilitation processes were often unreliable and discontinuous. Overall then, the results did not show a significant improvement in the Victorian prison system's performance over the 1992 to 2010 period. But, neither can the results be used to argue that the prison privatisation project was a policy failure. While these findings show that the Government's privatisation policy did not deliver on its optimistic aspirations, it did provide incentives to improve service delivery specifications, develop more rigorous performance standards, and enhance accountability processes, all of which are the building blocks for improving overall prison performance.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Graeme Arthur Hodge

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Law