Senior government sources have told The Courier-Mail that Department of Community Safety Director-General Kelvin Anderson has set up a taskforce to look at the plan's feasibility.
Lotus Glen, at Mareeba, has been touted as the most likely candidate for stage one, but more facilities would follow, the paper says.
The proposal is aimed at saving money, with privately managed prisons reportedly proving 10 per cent cheaper to operate on average than public prisons, mainly because of staffing ratios - meaning fewer staff per prisoner.
Former Probations and Parole southern region manager Nicole Duke has been appointed project director and is undertaking a report expected to go to the Cabinet Budget Review Committee.
The aim is for the government to call for tenders as early as July.
It is believed she's already met with heads of the GEO Group, which manages the privatised Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, as part of her research.
"From time to time, different prison management models are explored, and currently the government is investigating all options, including keeping the status quo," Mr Dempsey said.
But the proposal has drawn an angry response from unions, who say it will lead to further job losses and compromise public safety.