A New Department of Justice Report Shows Private Prisons Are Especially Dangerous

As the “tough on crime” policies of the 1980s and 1990s expanded, the number of Americans ending up in prisons began to swell substantially — so much so, that federal and state corrections facilities started becoming overwhelmed.

In an effort to manage the booming prison population, the various criminal justice systems began turning to private contract prisons. On the federal level, this began in 1997 on a relatively small scale. Since then, however, the number of federal inmates has continued to climb — and that’s meant more private prison contracts.

At the end of 2015, roughly 12 percent of the federal inmate population was being housed in private facilities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons by then had handed out $639 million in contracts to just three different contractors, the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc. and the Management and Training Corporation.

In recent years, the practice of using private contract prisons has gone under the public microscope, and is now considered highly controversial by many. Though there have been news stories and anecdotes on these facilities, perhaps the most complete and damning picture to yet be painted comes in the form of a new report from the Department of Justice.

In a detailed 86-page document, the Department of Justice’s inspector general states that in no small way, the Bureau of Prisons has failed in its core mission to incarcerate individuals in facilities “that are safe, humane, cost-efficient and secure.”

According to the report, data gathered from 14 federal contract prisons shows a failure to satisfy six of eight key categories, including “reports of incidents” and lockdowns.

Most troubling is the finding that violent incidents, either between inmates or between inmates and staff, were on average 28 percent more frequent than in other federal prisons between fiscal years 2011 and 2014. However, when looking at just inmate-on-staff assaults, these contract prisons have double the average rate of public facilities in this same time period.

The worst offender in this category was discovered to be Georgia’s D. Ray James prison (pictured above), at which nearly one in three such incidents occurred between fiscal years 2011 and 2014.

What about incidents of staff using force on inmates? These also happened at higher rates — 17 percent, on average — in private institutions.

With these last two figures in mind, it becomes quite apparent that something is amiss in the way most of these private prisons are being managed — particularly if violence between inmates and staff (in both directions) is higher.

Another concerning revelation made in the Justice Department’s report involves the routine practice of certain contract prisons placing new arrivals in Special Housing Units (SHU) — segregated areas meant to house especially dangerous or disruptive inmates — despite having not met such criteria.

Rather, these inmates are placed here to wait while new cells became available. The Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Texas, at the time of the report, had 71 of its 100 SHU-housed inmates there for this reason.

So what’s behind these problematic trends? Simply put, it stems directly from a lack of accountability. In the Justice Department’s report, it is argued that the Bureau of Prisons has not been diligent in guaranteeing its contract prisons have been meeting its goal of providing safe facilities.

In the same sentiment, it could also be argued that private contract prisons, because they are a profit-driven business, not a public service, are encouraged to operate with the lowest expenses possible — which could very well mean cutting corners by hiring underqualified and inexperienced staff or building cheap (or too few) cell units, among other things.

Though the federal prison population is starting to slowly decline, one in five inmates are in private facilities. Crime, in general, has also been in swift decline. It is time the Department of Justice do more than make polite suggestions to the Bureau of Prisons and begin to push for the abolition of private contract prisons as a practice.

Photo Credit: MTCTrainsTV / YouTube

50 comments

John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Ruth R
Ruth Rabout a year ago

If people can do and choose this kind of work, there is plenty of work to investigate human rights violations.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I think they are a good idea, except for the employees. Employees have no protection, they can loose their jobs for little or nothing.

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Jane M.
Jane M2 years ago

THANK YOU !FOR THIS ARTICLE!!!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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