The United States Is Planning to Abolish the Use of Private Prisons

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In a massive step in the criminal-justice reform movement, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) today (August 18) announced it will no longer use private prisons. Long since a bone of contention by opponents of prison privatization, the facilities in question are overwhelmingly for-profit institutions which usually have contracts with government bodies. Justifiably, their use causes major concerns among those who feel prisons should not operate in a way that puts money in the pockets of politicians, legislators, or other government officials as that can quite clearly create an impetus for keeping prisons “in business.”

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As reported by the Washington Post, Deputy Attorney Sally Yates said that today’s announcement is intended to showcase the federal government’s desire for “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.” The decision comes after DOJ officials undertook an extensive study of the benefits of such institutions, and they concluded that “the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.”

private prison

Specifically, 13 privately owned institutions that currently operate within the Bureau of Prisons system will be affected, but as reported, it will take some time for them to be shuttered. “The Justice Department would not terminate existing contracts but instead review those that come up for renewal,” writes Post reporter Matt Zapotosky of the fact that until their contracts are close to expiring, currently functioning private prisons will continue to operate as usual. Not surprisingly, there has been some pushback from administrative professionals who work within the private-prison system. “In response to the inspector general’s report, the contractors running the prisons noted that their inmate populations consist largely of non-citizens, presenting them with challenges that government-run facilities do not have,” Zapotosky reports.

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In her full statement, Yates outlined steps that have already been taken to achieve the ambitious goal of the DOJ, including the fact that “the bureau also would amend a solicitation for a 10,800-bed contract to one for a maximum 3,600-bed contract,” which “would allow the Bureau of Prisons over the next year to discontinue housing inmates in at least three private prisons, and by May 1, 2017, the total private prison population would stand at less than 14,200 inmates.” That is a major decrease, considering “private prisons housed roughly 22,660 federal inmates as of December 2015,” which “represents about 12 percent of the Bureau of Prisons total inmate population.”

The DOJ’s full critical report can be seen here.