The Justice Department intends to end the use of private prisons after concluding that these facilities are not only less effective at providing correctional services than facilities run by the government, but also less safe.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates made the announcement on Thursday through a memo telling officials that when contracts for private prison operators come up for renewal, they should either decline to renew the contract at all or at least “substantially reduce” the scope of the contract. Yates wrote that the goal is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated 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,” Yates wrote.
Yates said during an interview that the Bureau of Prisons system has 13 privately run facilities. She pointed out that they will not be shut down overnight. Rather than terminate existing contracts, Yates explained that contracts will be reviewed as they come up for renewal instead, which they all will within the next five years.
Last week, a critical report was released by The Justice Department’s inspector general which revealed that privately operated facilities had significantly more safety and security incidents than those operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons. According to the report, private prisons had higher rates of assaults of both inmates and staff. In recent years, disturbances have led to “extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a Correctional Officer.”
The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that,” Yates said.
Yates pointed out that the Bureau of Prisons has already begun taking steps to make the goal of eliminating private prisons a reality. Three weeks ago, the bureau decided not to renew a contract for 1,200 beds at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico.
Yates added that the bureau plans to amend a contract for 10,800-beds to one for a maximum 3,600-beds. This, Yates explained, will allow the bureau to discontinue housing inmates in at least three private prisons over the next year and the total private prison population to be reduced to less than 14,200 inmates by May 1, 2017.
However, Yates said it is “hard to know precisely” when there will finally be no federal inmates housed in privately run prisons. But she noted that 14,200 is still less than half the number of inmates from three years ago, which indicates that the department is “well on our way to ultimately eliminating the use of private prisons entirely.”
We have to be realistic about the time it will take, but that really depends on the continuing decline of the federal prison population, and that’s really hard to accurately predict,” Yates said.
The inspector general’s report said that approximately 22,660 federal inmates were housed in private prisons in December 2015, which is about 12 percent of the total inmate population.
In fiscal year 2014, the Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on private prisons. Yates said that it was “really hard to determine whether private prisons are less expensive” and whether costs would rise as a result of their closure, but she added that officials did not expect to have to hire more staff.
“Bottom line, I’d also say, you get what you pay for,” Yates said.
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