AFRICANGLOBE – The Justice Department plans to curtail and eventually end the use of privately run prisons, with officials saying that such facilities do not offer significant cost savings and do not maintain the same level of safety and security as prisons run by the federal government.
A memo issued Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates instructs the head of the Bureau of Prisons to either decline to renew or to reduce the scope of contracts with private prison companies when contracts come due.
The move will affect a relatively small number of prisoners. Only about 22,660 federal inmates, of the more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, are held in facilities where the Bureau of Prisons has contracted with private companies.
But for criminal justice reform advocates, the announcement is a victory in a long fight against what they say are deplorable conditions often found in private prisons.
“This is an important and groundbreaking decision that makes clear that the end of the BOP experiment with private prisons is finally in sight,” said Carl Takei, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.
Ms. Yates noted that a declining prison population — federal prisons held a high of 220,000 inmates in 2013 and now house 195,000 inmates — gave the Justice Department an opportunity to “better allocate our resources.”
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities,” Ms. Yates wrote. “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.”
Mr. Takei also pointed to a 2014 ACLU report that focused specifically on private prisons in Texas, which will be among the first to see inmate reductions under the policy, which found Bureau of Prisons contracts with privately run facilities “incentivize overcrowding” and that prisoners housed in the facilities are often unable to get adequate medical care and are subjected to “arbitrary and abusive use of extreme isolation.”
“When you hand control of a prison to a for-profit company, that is a recipe for misconduct,” he said.
The Justice Department policy directive does not apply to privately run jails and detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and state and local governments.
The Justice Department’s inspector general report, released this month, found that private prisons “incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions.”
“While the contract prisons had fewer positive inmate drug tests and sexual misconduct allegations than BOP institutions, they had more frequent incidents of contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances,” the report found.
Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, was doubtful that the Justice Department’s decision would cause other agencies to drop their use of private prisons.
“What they are saying is, since we need to close some prisons, why not close the private ones?” Mr. Wagner said. “This is like not renewing the magazine subscription that you don’t read.
“One government choosing to not use private prisons in the future is not going to make the smallest dent in mass incarceration,” he added.
The drop in revenue stream for the private prison companies, however, could give “the smallest bit of ammo to states to say, ‘Maybe you should negotiate better contracts,’” Mr. Wagner said.
At its peak in 2013, about 15 percent of federal inmates, or 30,000 people, were housed in facilities run by private companies. The Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million in fiscal 2014 to run 14 contract prisons.
Officials with Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the country, said Bureau of Prisons facilities make up only 7 percent of their overall business.
Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Jonathan Burns took issue with the Department of Justice’s reliance on the findings of the inspector general report to back up the decision.
“The findings simply don’t match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and quality, or the excellent feedback we get from our partners at all levels of government,” he said.
The Bureau of Prisons already declined to renew a $29 million contract for 1,200 beds at Cibola Correctional Center in New Mexico. Ms. Yates noted in Thursday’s memo that another existing contract was revised to lower the number of beds needed at private prisons from 10,800 beds to 3,600. She said the reduction would end the housing of inmates at three separate private prison facilities and by May would reduce the number of federal inmates held in private prisons to fewer than 14,200 inmates.
Inmates housed at the private prisons where contracts are not being renewed are not guaranteed to be moved back into facilities run by the Bureau of Prisons.
“Some will be absorbed, some will be moved to other private facilities, some of the reduction takes into account empty beds due to population reduction,” said a Justice Department official, speaking on background.
One of the private facilities slated for a reduction in population is the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Institution in Post, Texas, which is overseen by Management and Training Corp. Spokesman Issa Arnita said the company is disappointed to hear about the Department of Justice’s decision, and pointed to Bureau of Prisons statistics released last year that showed it cost less to house an inmate in a privately run prison than in a publicly run low-, medium- or high-security prison.
“Contract prisons have long provided valuable, cost efficient, and effective services to the BOP,” Mr. Issa said. “If the DOJ’s decision to end the use of contract prisons were based solely on declining inmate populations, there may be some justification, but to base this decision on cost, safety and security, and programming is wrong.”
By: Andrea Noble