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Justice Department to stop using private prisons

Justice Department to stop using private prisons
Loretta Lynch (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Justice)

The Justice Department’s Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced plans to end its use of private prisons in a memo instructing officials to either decline to renew or substantially reduce the scope of contracts with private prison operators, citing a critical report that private prisons are less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

The report concluded that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents, such as assaults on both inmates and staff, than those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

One example of such an incident involved 250 inmates who were upset about low-quality food and medical care in a May 2012 riot at the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi. There were 20 people injured, and a correctional officer was killed.

“The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that,” Yates revealed in an interview.

The report comes on the heels of a recent 35,000-word exposé, detailing a Mother Jones reporter’s undercover work as a private prison guard in Louisiana, which found serious deficiencies. The Nation magazine also recently reported about deaths under questionable circumstances in privately operated facilities.

The contract prisons are operated by three private corporations, according to the Inspector General’s report: Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation. The bureau of prisons spent $639 million on private prisons in fiscal year 2014, according to the report. CNBC reports trading prices of Corrections Corp. of America briefly plunged more than 20 percent, and GEO was temporarily down 30 percent before both stocks were intermittently halted.

“We have to be realistic about the time it will take, but that really depends on the continuing decline of the federal prison population, and that’s really hard to accurately predict,” Yates said.

All contracts for the 13 privately run facilities come up for renewal over the next five years. Will public and bipartisan support for prison reform, along with calls to decriminalize marijuana, and even to end the drug war altogether, lead to further prison population reduction and a rethinking of privatized prisons at the state and local level?

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