Lecture discusses prison privatization in Australia

Amanda O’Donnell

Prison privatization, the delegation of government prison control to private companies, proved a controversial topic in a lecture given by Malcom Feeley, a University of California, Berkeley law professor.

The Wednesday afternoon lecture, titled “Prison Privatization in Australia and the United States: Differences in the Role of the State” discussed the successes of prison privatization in Australia, including less violence, reduced suicide rates and more dedicated prison officials. Feeley said despite some very strong arguments against prison privatization, Australia has proved the possibility of success. 

“In Australia, I found something that genuinely surprised me, and that was pretty good prisons,” Feeley said. “There’s no good moral theory for privatization other than cost-benefit analysis. Propriety of punishment isn’t something people readily condone.”

Government professor Rhonda Evans Case said Feeley’s lecture is the first of a new series hosted by the Clark Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies. 

“We’re bringing people who have held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American political science in Australia to UT Austin after they come back from doing four to six months of research in Australia,” Evans Case said. “When you’re a Fulbright, you are able to travel all around Australia and learn about it, and also talk about American politics in various forms.”

Feeley said that although Australia has experienced success with prison privatization, the culture there is also fundamentally different from that within the U.S. in that it is less crowded and has considerably less violence.  

“My answer about ‘Should we privatize prisons and can they work?’ is: it all depends,” Feeley said. “Not a very powerful answer, but it seems to me that that is the only reasonable answer. It can’t be categorically yes, or categorically no.”

Government senior Mariela Rubio said she hopes research like Feeley’s helps to fuel experimentation with privatization in the U.S. 

“I’m in the human rights and politics class, and this is the exact kind of topic we deal with,” Rubio said. “After hearing Feeley talk, I’m intrigued that privatization is met with so much opposition here in the U.S. Australia acts as a direct example of this method working for and improving the country that works to employ it.”