The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that it would be phasing out its use of private prisons in favor of using facilities provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, citing that government correctional centers are more safe and effective than contracted ones have been in recent years.
In a memo to the department, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates instructed officials to allow term-limited contracts with private prison companies to expire or “substantially reduce” the scope of those contracts in proportion with the decline of the federal inmate population.
According to federal statistics, about 73,000 or 37 percent of all inmates housed in federal prison facilities are Black
Yates noted that about 195,000 inmates are housed in bureau or private facilities, down from a high in 2013 of 220,000. Between then and 1980, the federal prison population had increased by 800 percent, exceeding the BOP’s ability to manage it.
The government decided to use private prisons to house inmates about a decade ago, Yates said. By the time of the 2013 peak, about 30,000 prisoners were being housed in private prisons.
But with the decline, she said, the government “can better allocate our resources to ensure that inmates are in the safest facilities and receiving the best rehabilitative services – services that increase their chances of becoming contributing members of their communities when they return from prison.
“This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons. While an unexpected need may arise in the future, the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities.”
Yates told the Washington Post that there are 13 private prison facilities in the U.S. and that they would not close immediately, but rather review contracts with the prison companies that come up for renewal.
The announcement of the phase out comes about a week after an Office of the Inspector General report that found prisons that held government contracts were less safe and secure than those run directly by the BOP.
“For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP institutions,” the report said. “Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.”
Three private corporations, Corrections Corporation of America; GEO Group, Inc.; – both public corporations — and Management and Training Corporation, which remains privately owned, operate the contracted facilities, the report said. But they did not represent fiscal or security improvements for the government as expenditures rose from $562 million in 2011 to $639 million in 2014.
In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer,” said the report.
At least one of the companies has disputed the findings of the report however. Scott Marquardt, president of Management and Training Corporation, told the post that the comparison between BOP facilities and those that are privately run is a poor one.
“Any casual reader would come to the conclusion that contract prisons are not as safe as BOP prisons,” Marquardt said. “The conclusion is wrong and is not supported by the work done by the [Office of the Inspector General].”
But Yates observations were consistent with the Inspector General’s report.
“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.