Private prisons past their prime?
Prison | Why the Obama administration prefers government-run prisons
by Rob Holmes
Posted 8/23/16, 05:38 pm
The Obama administration plans to stop using contracted private prisons, citing its own report that the government is a better warden.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said last Thursday private prisons “do not provide the level of correctional services, programs, and resources” comparable to the government prison system.
More serious still, Yates also said privately contracted facilities do not maintain the same level of safety and security as federal facilities—a statement disputed by private correctional management companies.
The decision will affect about 12 percent, or 22,100, of the nation’s 193,299 .
A move away from using private detention facilities will not affect the majority of U.S. prisoners, nearly 2 million of whom are in state prison systems. Nor does the decision change the U.S. Marshals Service’s holding of temporary suspects or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s handling of 34,000 foreign nationals now incarcerated pending deportation.
Yates issued the decision in a memo without specifying a timeline. As private prison contracts expire, the bureau plans to forgo renewing contracts and substantially reduce the use of private facilities.
Since 1997, the federal government has relied on private prisons to ease overcrowding, an issue critics like the American Civil Liberties Union claim stems from “mandatory minimums” in sentencing for so-called small or non-violent offenses like illegal drug use.
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own bureau facilities,” Yates said.
Today, the bulk of federal prison inmates in private facilities are foreign nationals who are being held on immigration offenses, a government audit showed.
The plan to reduce private prison space—housing largely non-citizen inmates—follows a controversial 2014 Obama administration decision to deport fewer people who break immigration laws. That 2014 decision resulted in 25 states suing the government over its order.
Though reducing private prison space might take years to accomplish, contractors have seen corporate loss long before their contracts expire. Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO Group Inc. both saw their shares drop drastically last week just after release of the attorney general’s memo.
CCA’s disputed the claim that government-run facilities have fewer security incidents than privately run sites. They “simply don’t match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and security,” CCA stated, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In 2014 only about 10 percent of the Bureau of Prisons’ annual budget of $6.5 billion was spent for privately managed correctional facilities, mostly located in Texas, Georgia, and California.
Whether the government or a company acts as prison warden, the larger issue for Christians is reaching out to inmates. President and CEO of Prison Fellowship James Ackerman said the organization has “some positive relationships with privately-managed prisons to bring our programs into their facilities.”
Ackerman’ said his aim for prisons is to “present genuine opportunities for those in their care to accept responsibility for their crimes and prepare for a positive role back in communities.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Rob is a World Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.