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August 18, 2016

"Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this Washington Post report on some big news emerging from the US Department of Justice this afternoon.  Here is how the report starts:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, 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.

In an interview, Yates said there are 13 privately run privately run facilities in the Bureau of Prisons system, and they will not close overnight. Yates said the Justice Department would not terminate existing contracts but instead review those that come up for renewal. She said all the contracts would come up for renewal over the next five years.

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

August 18, 2016 at 03:48 PM | Permalink


To be honest, the headlines from that report were more negative with respect to private prisons than the report itself. The government prisons were worse in a few of the most serious areas (sexual assault, for example), and it's debatable how badly a few of the most widely reported findings reflect on the private prisons (would it be better if the private prisons were *not* finding contraband?) I'm also not convinced that the sample of government prisons chosen was comparable to the private prisons; it would have been nice to see how the private numbers compared to, say, middle security federal prisons, which in some ways are closer comparisons to the private prisons than the low security facilities chosen (neither group is a perfect match for various reasons).

I assume that the BOP will replace the private prisons with similar operations housing similar offenders --- in the case of private prisons, mostly individuals being prepared for incarceration. It will be interesting to see whether incident statistics are similar after the switch.

Posted by: IB | Aug 18, 2016 5:43:19 PM

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