Justice Department to Phase Out Federal Private Prisons

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 18, 2016

A week after the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing the shortcomings of federal prisons operated by private corporations, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials have announced that it is working toward “reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons.”

The announcement came via a memo released by Deputy Attorney Sally Yates today (August 18).

“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.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system currently contracts with private companies to operate 13 facilities. Yates wrote that rather than shift operations immediately, contracts will be reviewed as the come up for renewal. Each of the contracts—with Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Inc. and Management and Training Corporation—is scheduled to be reviewed within the next five years. Per today’s memo, officials are charged to either decline to renew contracts or “substantially reduce” the scope of the agreements. Yates wrote that by May 1, 2017, there will be about 14,200 inmates in federal private prison, which is less than half as many as there were at the industry’s peak in 2013. The BOP paid private companies $639 million in fiscal year 2014.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Yates expanded on the decision to decrease the federal government’s reliance on private prisons. “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.”

But as ThinkProgress reports, this change will not impact a particularly vulnerable community: detained immigrants. The policy change only impacts facilities under the purview of the Bureau of Prisons. That means that privately run immigration detention centers, which are ultimately housed within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will maintain the status quo. ICE spokesperson Sarah Rodriguez confirmed as much to ThinkProgress.

A 2015 report from the Center for American Progress found that last year, 62 percent of all beds in DHS facilities are under the control of private companies. And a study from the National Immigrant Justice Center the same year found that a failed inspection system leaves the people detained in these facilities open to human rights abuses, from sexual assault to lack of adequate medical care.