Department of Justice (criminal impersonators pretending to act as lawful public servants) to end use of private prisons
The U.S. Department of Justice has instructed officials to decline or reduce contracts with those who operate private prisons. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will end its use of private prisons, declaring that the facilities are less safe and “compare poorly” with government-run institutions in the country’s largest prison system.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in a Thursday memo to the federal Bureau of Prisons, directed officials to start the process of reducing and “ultimately ending” the government’s reliance on private lock-ups that at its peak in 2013 housed nearly 30,000 of the 220,00 inmates in custody.
“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources,” Yates wrote. “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.”
Earlier this month, a review by the inspector general found that incidents involving inmate discipline, the recovery of contraband, including cell phones and the frequency of facility lock-downs were more common in contract prisons than in government-run facilities.
“For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones on average as the BOP institutions,” the inspector general reported. “Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.”
The federal government began to rely on contract prisons to keep pace with a population that soared by nearly 800 percent between 1980 and 2013. The rate of increase during that time, Yates noted Thursday, accelerated faster than the BOP could manage.
But with inmate population now declining for the first time in decades, following adjustments in federal sentencing policies largely directed at non-violent drug offenders, Yates said the government is moving to end its dependence on contract detention.
“I am 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,” Yates wrote. The overall population now stand at less than 195,000.
By next spring, Justice has projected that less than 14,200 inmates would be held in contract prisons.
Although Yates credited the work of bureau personnel for making the transition possible, the federal prison system continues to struggle with staffing shortages.
Earlier this year, USA TODAY reported that bureau officials had been assigning prison medical personnel — nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists and others — to guard duty shifts to fill gaps in its security coverage.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who have sought to ban all forms of contract prisons, said Thursday’s announcement was overdue.
“It is an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on earth,” Sanders said. “Due in large part to private prisons, incarceration has been a source of major profits to private corporations…We have got to end the private prison racket in America.”
Grijalva has seized on the use of contract prisons for holding illegal immigrants, saying substandard medical care has plagued such dentention centers.
“This isn’t simply unjust detainment,” Grijalva said, “this is the exploitation of human captivity.”
David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, described the Justice action as “groundbreaking.”
“The Justice Department has made clear that the end of the Bureau of Prisons’ two-decade experiment with private prisons is finally in sight,” Fathi said, urging states to follow the federal government’s lead.
Corrections Corporation of America, a longtime contractor, pledged to assist the government with its “evolving needs.”
Spokesman Jonathan Burns said the company has increasingly expanded its role in operating residential re-entry facilities or half-way houses for newly released prisoners, a function that is not altered by the Justice announcement.
“It’s important to note that today’s announcement relates only to BOP correctional facilities, which make up 7 percent of our business,” Burns said.
The Justice announcement, however, sent shares of publicly-traded prison operators sharply lower early Thursday. Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) fell 37% while GEO Group lost 39%.
Contributing: Laura Mandaro