U.S. Justice Department ending use of private prisons for federal inmates

"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 lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security." — Sally Yates, Deputy Attorney General

Washington (19 Aug. 2016) — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is phasing out the use of privately owned prisons for federal prisoners. Over the next 5 years the contracts of 13 private prisons will be reviewed and allowed to expire..

Private prisons not as safe — no cost saving

Sally Yates, Deputy Attorney General, explained  in a memo to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that the decision was partly made as a result of concerns with the security and safety of private prisons.

In the public memorandum Yates wrote that "private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. 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 oflnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

The Inspector General's report referred to in the memorandum found that private prisons saw higher rates of violent incidents and rule infractions in comparison with government-run institutions.

It was also noted that rehabilitation services were not on par with the state operated facilities.

Use of private prisons expected to decline rapidly 

Yates is directing that "as each contract reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population."

"Three weeks ago, the Bureau declined to renew a contract for approximately 1,200 beds," noted Yates.

"Today, concurrent with the release of this memo, the Bureau is amending an existing contract solicitation to reduce an upcoming contract award from a maximum of 10,800 beds to a maximum of 3,600. Taken together, these actions will allow the Bureau to end the housing of inmates at three or more private contract facilities over the next year, and will reduce the total private prison population to less than 14,200 inmates by May 1, 2017 — a greater than 50 percent decrease since 2013," explained Yates.   

Serious blow to private prison industry

“Today is an historic day,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an anti-private prison organization based in Texas. “The DOJ’s decision to phase out its use of troubled for-profit private prisons may be a turning point for an industry that has continued to win federal contracts despite well-documented operational problems.”

It is hoped that the federal initiative will be repeated by individual states and local authorities. More than 90% of U.S. prisoners are held in state or locally run facilities.

The move is likely to be a serious blow to the private prison industry. Already reports are that the stock value of some private prison corporations has dropped by more than 40%.

Impact on imprisoned non-citizens unknown as of yet

Grassroots Leadership points out that, "most privately operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons. CAR prisons hold noncitizens, many of whom have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border. This announcement will likely mark the end of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens, though it remains to be seen how the BOP will carry out this change."

More information:

Memorandum to Acting Director Federal Bureau of Prisons

Grassroots Leadership

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