By Josh Gerstein
August 18, 2016
The Justice Department announced Thursday that it intends to reduce and eventually eliminate its reliance on privately owned prisons to house federal inmates.
In ordering the shift, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the privately run facilities don't measure up to government-run detention centers in a variety of ways and put prisoners and the public at greater risk.
"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities," Yates wrote in a memo to acting Bureau of Prisons Director Thomas Kane. "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 also said rehabilitation services offered at federal facilities "have proved difficult to replicate and outsource." She said the Justice Department is already allowing contracts with private prisons to expire or be reduced in scope and plans to continue to do so.
"As each private prison 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," Yates added in a blog post on Justice's website. "This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hailed the decision for adopting one of the key criminal-justice reform planks of his recent presidential bid.
"The Justice Department’s plan to end its use of private prisons is an important step in the right direction. It is exactly what I campaigned on as a candidate for president," Sanders said in a statement. “We have got to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible. Our focus should be on keeping people out of jail and making sure they stay out when they are released. This means funding jobs and education not more jails and incarceration.”
The Justice Department announcement prompted an immediate plunge in the stock prices of the two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment.
The move away from private prisons is in keeping with a series of late-second-term policy initiatives by the Obama administration that seek to set default rules for the next administration but could be reversed if a new president favors a different approach.
Immigration authorities, operating under the Department of Homeland Security, have also dramatically reduced their detention of families illegally crossing into the U.S. into Mexico. CCA's profits are heavily dependent on an immigration detention center in Texas that is now largely unused. CCA warned earlier this month that its financial results could be adversely impacted by the feds' efforts to rein in that contract.
Federal use of private prisons for criminal inmates peaked in 2013, when almost 30,000 prisoners, constituting about 15 percent of the federal prison population, were held in such facilities.
Current statistics show that about 22,000 federal prisoners, or about 11 percent of the total federal prison population, are being held in privately run jails.
Yates' memo was silent on housing federal prisoners in jails run by state or local governments. She did say that the department plans to continue its use of privately run halfway houses, known as residential re-entry facilities.
The policy change was first reported by The Washington Post.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com