ABSTRACT: In 2008, the New South Wales (NSW) Government announced its intention to privatize two of the State’s prisons. This was a significant change in policy, a move that was justified publicly on the grounds that it would produce significant cost savings. This paper explores the way costs have been referenced within the public discussion on prison privatization in NSW to provide a basis for the decision. Little externally verifiable evidence could be found to support the government’s claim that the proposed privatization would save tax-payer funds; instead, this work shows how justifications based on costs became self referential, taking on a life of their own. Given that there is little “real” evidence to argue the government’s policy was rational on cost grounds, this paper explores how references to costs in public debate can be used to justify and reinforce privatization decisions without significant critique.

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