Department of Justice Announces Decision to Phase Out the Use of Private Prisons
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates announced on August 18th the Justice Department will phase out the use of private prisons, also known as for profit prisons and contract prisons. Yates said that over the next 5 years as contracts expire, the DOJ will either not renew the contract private prisons or greatly diminish its powers. Yates sighted that the “ [private prison] facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services.”
This decision was made after a crucial initiated by the Office of the Inspector General found “disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a Correctional Officer.”
Major findings in the report conclude that contract prisons had more incidents per capita than BOP institutions in six areas: (1) contraband (2) reports of incidents (3) lockdowns (4) inmate discipline (5) telephone monitoring and (6) selected grievances. The information was based on data from 2011-2014.
In addition, on-site visits revealed two contract prisons were inappropriately placing prisoners in Special Housing Units (SHU) due to overcrowding of the general population housing. The SHU is a solitary confinement meant to discipline prisoners through isolation or segregation. None of the prisoners being held in the SHU had participated in actions that would justify their placement there.
The 86-page report did not recommend the termination of contract prisons but instead provided four recommendations to the BOP. The first to form a group of BOP subject matter experts to evaluate why contract prisons had more safety and security incidents per capita than BOP institutions, two to verify on a more frequent basis that inmates receive basic medical services, three to ensure correctional services observations relate to the contract, and four to reevaluate the checklist and review it on a regular basis.
The BOP agreed to all the recommendations and the three corporations responsible for running federal prisons, Corrections Cooperation of America (CCA), Management and Training Corporation (MTC), and GEO Group Inc. (GEO). were all given the opportunity to respond. Each of the corporations made the point that the housing population demographics are very different compared to BOP institutions and did not seem to take well to being compared to them in the first place. The CEO of MTC wrote in his response “the comparison of two sets of prisons is comparing apples to oranges.”
The problems at private prisons were hardly a secret prior to the Inspector General’s report. Yates said Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons officials had been talking for months about discontinuing their use.
Aside from governmental oversight, several journalistic exposés and documentaries unveiled the corrupt practices and lacking of basic services in for profit prisons.
Mother Jones recently published a 35,000-word exposé detailing a reporter’s undercover work as a private prison guard in Louisiana. The Nation magazine wrote about deaths under suspicious circumstances in privately operated facilities. NBC News followed the 2007 Pennsylvanian “Kids for Cash” scandal in which people actually paid off two judges to find children guilty so they could then be sent to privately run juvenile facilities. Even Bernie Sanders wrote an article in the Huffington Post denouncing for profit prisons in September 2015.
The ugly truth is there is almost definitely a horror story at every private prison in the country.
Nationwide, for profit prisons account for sixteen percent of federal prisoners and six percent of state prisoners according to the American Civil Liberties Union, but the majority of inmates in for profit prisoners are in state level facilities. The decision by the Justice Department, however, will only affect federal private prisons.
Office of the Inspector General: https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2016/e1606.pdf#page=2