The spatiality of neoliberalism: accounting for staff in a private prison

Stream: Social policy as re-investment: can justice (re-) investment overcome fiscal constraints on social spending?
Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Time: 1.25 pm – 2.25 pm


This paper engages with the accounting literature on neoliberalism and takes seriously the significant role accounting plays in the production of neoliberal spaces. In this paper, using a single case study, we explore the ways in which calculative practices (such as value for money calculations; performance metrics; budgets; cost allocations; the cost of capital estimates), shaped primarily by accounting, obscure and enable policy pathways. The paper considers the ways in which accounting information can be mobilised to represent privatisation as an appropriate and desirable solution to policy dilemmas. To do this, our paper provides a case study of staffing practices at one privately managed prison - Rosebury Private Prison (RPP). We argue that the ways in which RPP ‘accounts for staff’ has a direct impact on the work undertaken by prison officers within the prison, both in terms of what prison officers do on a routine basis, and the ways they experience their work. At RPP, accounting information supports the additional distance created under conditions of privatisation between the policy space, with its emphasis on contracts, costs and performance, and the carceral space in which these policies are enacted. While this distance created significant tensions for prison officers, it appeared to create the space to represent privatisation as a high performing, cost-effective and accountable policy solution. We argue that the cost and efficiency gains celebrated at RPP are only possible because the realities of carceral spaces are ignored by both prison management and policy-makers – something accounting makes possible.


Max Baker (Presenter), The University of Sydney
Dr Max Baker is a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting. Before his academic career, Max worked in a variety of roles for a number of large companies such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Macquarie Bank. Along with Associate Professor Jane Andrew, Dr Max Baker has been at the forefront of reviewing the rolling out of privatisation as a policy response to growing prison costs. Their 2016 report on the state of play of all private prisons in Australia has become a highly cited report in the field.

Jane Andrew (Presenter), The University of Sydney
Jane has a particular interest in the relationship between accounting information and public policy and has written extensively on public accountability, carbon accounting, immigration detention, prison privatisation and whistleblowing. The policy relevance of her work means she is often called upon to contribute to discussions of public policy at the State and Federal level. In 2016, Jane released a report titled Prison Privatisation in Australia: The State of the Nation providing the first comprehensive review of the costs, performance and accountability of Australian private prisons.
Jane was appointed co-editor-in-chief for Critical Perspectives on Accounting in 2018.