« Florida legislators talk of repealing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses | Main | Interesting commentary on Prez Obama's Harvard Law Review article and his criminal justice legacy »

February 23, 2017

AG Sessions, reversing recent decision made during Obama Administration, signals DOJ return to reliance on private prisons

As reported in this Bloomberg News piece, "U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to continue using private prisons, rescinding an order by former President Barack Obama’s administration." Here is more context:

Sessions signed the order on Feb. 21, according to a Justice Department statement. The Justice Department last year halted a decade-long experiment of hiring private companies to help manage the soaring prison population.  "The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system," Sessions wrote in a new memo released Thursday but dated Feb. 21.  "I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach."

The move comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and crime.  The majority of inmates held at private facilities used by the Justice Department are sentenced “criminal aliens,” according to the Bureau of Prisons. That largely encompasses undocumented immigrants convicted of drug offenses or entering the U.S. without proper documentation.

For a variety of reasons, I do not find this development all that surprising or really all that big of a deal. But I know a lot of reform advocates on the left are especially troubled by the private prison industry, and thus I suspect this move will be another talking point for those concerned about the direction of the federal criminal justice system under the new Administration.

February 23, 2017 at 05:30 PM | Permalink


As a bias, I favor private companies over government. Not so, for prisons.

I have never resigned for work conditions, but had to, working for a private prison. This resignation was despite high pay, relative to other employers. I have never seen such poor management of any institution.

I did like its letterhead. It had a logo of a globe with prison bars across it.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 12:13:18 AM

The DOJ should be talking in the same terms as the UK Justice Secretary - about placing into law and enhancing the responsibility for rehabilitation practices as a priority in prisons, public or private alike, and putting into place a rigorous system of accountability and public shaming of poor performance. UK prisons are not, at the present time, an example of a world model of excellence - far, far from it - but at least the debate is turning to transformation of role in turning around the perennial problem of recidivism, and should stimulate the provision of healthier and more humane conditions of incarceration. That certainly is the hope, after a long time in the coming. Of course, unless the UK Government reverses years of resource cuts, and insists proper levels of investment by private companies in the prison industry, this won't yield practical results in a hurry - but it is a first essential step along the path - and lack of progress will shame the government.

Posted by: peter | Feb 24, 2017 4:21:45 AM

The "beauty" of the private warehousing is, that once a HABEAS has been filed, the inmate is bused out of the jurisdiction to quell review and delay dispute. Richelieu invented this technique. But world-wide shaming has never been a deterrent for America.

Posted by: Melanie L Lopez | Feb 24, 2017 5:49:02 AM

"The "beauty" of the private warehousing is, that once a HABEAS has been filed, the inmate is bused out of the jurisdiction to quell review and delay dispute. Richelieu invented this technique. But world-wide shaming has never been a deterrent for America."

Patently untrue. District courts retain jurisdiction over habeas litigation where a prisoner is subsequently transferred. And even if it were true (again, it's not) there would be no less a danger with the BOP, which after all manages facilities across the country and transfers prisoners regularly.

Posted by: IB | Feb 24, 2017 9:48:35 AM

Peter. Rehab is more rent seeking quackery.

One question I have for the lawyers here.

Is private corporate prison liability the same as governmental liability? I can sue the government under Section 1983, and collect lawyer's fees, and nothing else. Someone gets raped in prison, can they sue for defective premises security? Can they sue on behalf of a class of rape victims in private prison? The guards sexually abuse the female prisoners. Can they sue for sex discrimination and collect damages for themselves and for those similarly situated? What statute prevents such meritorious claims?

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 9:54:44 AM

David: Good rehabilitation processes include mental health care/treatment, drug and alcohol abuse treatment/counseling, education and training. If you believe that unimportant, to equip offenders for a successful life back in your community and defeat recidivism, then your value set is seriously damaged. Yes, it costs. So does putting the mentally ill, drug users, poorly educated and unskilled people with a history of criminality back into the community or keeping them locked up for years beyond a fair and sensible term.

Posted by: peter | Feb 24, 2017 12:38:55 PM


Echoing peter's comment, isn't putting damaged individuals with no rehab back onto the streets, a freshly minted felony conviction, and a gap in their job resume also "rent seeking quackery," as you call it? Such an arrangement, it seems to me, is a recipe to ensure that an individual commits more crimes, thereby ensuring the continued employ of all those in the criminal justice system.

Posted by: Guy | Feb 24, 2017 1:33:44 PM

@Peter and Guy. Rehab is not even sensible. Train a guy to push a broom for $15 taxed, when he can make $150 tax free.

Show us the evidence of success not related to aging.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 2:01:00 PM

David: Not so hard to find, if you want to ...yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/meet-the-ex-inmate-whose-successful-prison-rehab-program-goes-beyond-drug-treatment-20160804

Just Google search for "example of the success of rehabilitation". The New York Times article 2012 is another nice one.

Posted by: peter | Feb 24, 2017 3:02:08 PM

Peter. Inspiring story of one man who was helped most by religion. He really matured with ... age.

Need more evidence on which to base any policy.

I found the Norwegian experience. That program applies to white people. Our white Norwegians have lower crime rates than Norwegian Norwegians. Our American Norwegians drink less and already have lower crime rates. Norway also has 1/5 the number of lawyers as Minnesota. That seems to be an under estimated factor in the suppression of crime. Japan has 30,000 lawyers for 100 million people. They have an even lower crime rate. In Japan, the guards just beat your ass daily, whether you need it or not. Good rehab statistics.

Aside from low number of lawyers per population, those low crime jurisdictions have something else in common. The criminal is far more afraid of the neighbors than of the police. The neighbors know everything, and will not allow crime to continue, all the way up to just shooting the guy if he cannot be persuaded to stop.

Please, provide more data.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 9:33:28 PM

Peter. Brazil is more overlawyered than the US. It has 3 million lawyers and 210 million people. Crime is making life unbearable. The US has 1.5 million lawyers for 300 million people. Japan has 30,000 lawyers for 100 million people.

The best prison rehabilitation, to really reduce recidivism, is to slash the size of the lawyer profession.

The reports of decreasing rates of crime are all false news to promote the Democratic Presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, to decarcerate, and to generate more lawyer jobs. The profession in the US is in really bad shape. Instead of loosing the criminals, the government can slash crime by closing the Top Tier law schools by force.


This blog about the problems of the lawyer profession has almost twice the readers as this one. Lawyers are really worried.


Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 10:59:16 PM

Someone is, indeed, always wrong on the Internet.

Posted by: Guy | Feb 25, 2017 8:57:49 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB