Federal government to phase out use of private prisons in move praised by Sanders

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced plans to discontinue contracting with firms to run private prisons on Tuesday.

The objective, as announced in an internal DOJ memorandum written by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

Citing a desire to forego renewal of contracts or limit the relationship with private prison firms, Yates characterized private prisons:

“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.”

The new decree will affect 13 facilities currently housing over 22,000 inmates incarcerated within private prisons under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  Although no existing contract is expected to be voided, the DOJ expects anticipates a window of five years before all contracts with the federal government have expired.  The new dictum, however, does not include private prisons administered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).

The new rules outlining the future of the relationship private prisons enjoy with the federal government follows a damning report issued by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General detailing a higher rate of safety and security occurrences at privately-run prisons in comparison to those under the administration of the BOP.  Evidence gathered from private prisons revealed incidents of contraband seized, lockdowns ordered, incidents of inmates assaulting prison guards and use of drugs among inmates, all of which occurred at a significantly higher rate in private prisons as opposed to those operated by the BOP.

Following the memo’s becoming public, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders lauded the move, saying it was “exactly what he had campaigned for.”

Praised by the ACLU, liberties group spokesperson David Fathi said:

“This is a huge deal. It is historic and groundbreaking.  For the last 35 years, the use of private prisons in this country has crept ever upward, and this is a startling and major reversal of that trend, and one that we hope will be followed by others.” 

Despite the DOJ IG’s report and a similar undercover exposé furnished by The Nation earlier this year exposing flaws in privately-run prisonsPablo Paez, an official with GEO, one of the two largest government prison contractors stated:

“While our company was disappointed by today’s DOJ announcement, the impact of this decision on GEO is not imminent. As acknowledged in the announcement, the BOP will continue, on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether to extend contracts at the end of their contract period.”

Paez added GEO would “continue to work with the BOP, as well as all of our government partners, in order to ensure safe and secure operations at all of our facilities.”


[Washington Post] [The Nation] [Photo courtesy madisonscpc.com]