“Getting a Good Score”: The case management work of private prison officers

Christine Cooper, Jonathan Tweedie, Jane Andrew, Max Baker

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

For almost forty years governments around the world have experimented with forms of privatisation within the prison sector. Despite claims of cost effectiveness, performance improvements and enhanced transparency, little is known about the impact privatisation has on the delivery of prison services and life within these prisons. During this time, reporting practices within and about prisons have changed considerably to demonstrate compliance with contracts and to communicate performance against specified Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Service Delivery Outcomes (SDOs) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This paper draws on interview data to explore these new reporting regimes, and to understand the effect they have on the work undertaken by correctional officers within private prisons. We interrogate the production of monthly ‘file notes’ related to the case management of prisoners within one privately managed prison (Service Delivery Outcome 8, or, SDO 8). The file note, which is linked to a scoring system that determines part of the contractor’s performance linked fees, requires correctional officers to write a monthly report on each individual prisoner’s progress through the lens of their own activities as a case manager. We argue that the production and assessment of the file note magnifies the work of the correctional officer, such that the prisoner’s progress is seen as a product of the officer’s effectiveness, decoupled from other important drivers of rehabilitation - including the broader realities of socio-economic disadvantage, and more concretely, the availability of appropriate vocational opportunities and personal development programs within the prison. In assessing the quality of the correctional officer’s file note, as opposed to the prisoner’s individual progress, the officer is required to communicate their individual effectiveness as a case manager to optimise fee revenue for the firm. While the officer’s we interviewed voiced significant concerns about their workplaces, they had learnt to write file notes that would “get a good score” because, to do otherwise could be interpreted as poor individual performance and would have negative consequences for the firm. This paper provides some insights into the effect privatisation has on the nature of work within prisons, and, the highlights the importance of reporting practices in the restructuring of state/market relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019
Event9th Asia-Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting Conference - Auckland, New Zealand
Duration: 1 Jul 20193 Jul 2019
Conference number: 9


Conference9th Asia-Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting Conference
Abbreviated titleAPIRA
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
Internet address


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