Perverse incentives at work in Nauru subcontracting

Fine avoidance strategies in Australia’s off-shore detentions aren’t a unique problem for DIBP, instead fitting a pattern in privatised prisons. Without monitoring, incidents can create broader risks for government.

The finer details of government contracting don’t tend to grab headlines, but when you’re dealing with some of society’s most vulnerable individuals — people in detention — how those details play out on the ground can have a huge impact.

It appears the reporting system in place in the outsourcing contract for the Nauru detention centre incorporates some damaging perverse incentives, argues Melbourne School of Government professor of public management Janine O’Flynn, who is currently writing a book on privatised detention and residential facilities.

But this isn’t a rare occurrence — it’s actually pretty common in detention facilities around the world, she says.

Under-reporting to avoid fines

Psychologist Paul Stevenson, who went on 12 deployments to Nauru, told The Guardian it was common for incident reports — for issues such as sexual assault and threats of self-harm — to be downgraded, due to financial concerns.

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