Is the Age of Private Prisons Finally Drawing to a Close?

In a major policy shift, it was announced on Thursday that the United States federal government will significantly scale back its use of private prisons until, ultimately, they are no longer used at all.

As of 2013, 15 percent of all federal inmates were housed in one of the more than a dozen private prisons operated by just three different contract corporations. The decision, announced by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, was arrived at after a recent Department of Justice report found that private prisons are substantially more dangerous than other federal prisons.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs…they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates writes.

It was discovered that, on average, violent incidents in private prisons happened at rates 28 percent higher than other federal facilities. The D. Ray James private prison was found to be especially problematic in this area, claiming almost one in three of all violent incidents between 2011 and 2014.

Private prison staff were also found to be significantly more prone to using force against inmates by an average of 17 percent, compared to staff in other federal prisons.

The deputy attorney general notes that while private prisons served an important role at one time in managing a growing inmate population, this trend has begun to reverse course in recent years; whereas there were 220,000 federal inmates in 2013, today there are less than 195,000.

Another crucial justification given for withdrawing private prison contracts relates to rehabilitation services aimed at reducing recidivism. According to Yates, facilities operated directly under the Bureau of Prisons provide better educational and employment preparation programs which have “proved difficult to replicate and outsource.”

Federal private prisons will not go extinct overnight. According to Yates’ projections, these populations will be halved by the middle of 2017. Before this decision, however, the Bureau of Prisons had already started along this course, having recently declined to renew a contract for 1,200 beds.

What does all of this mean? While the Department of Justice’s decision only extends to federal private prison contracts, it will almost certainly have a ripple effect on the industry as a whole.

So far, prison contractors like the Corrections Corporation of America have already seen a swift decline in their stocks. In one sense, then, the message is being sent to those, like Wells Fargo who have invested millions in private prison corporations, that profit can no longer be made on imprisoning people.

Soon, fallout from this will extend to private prisons used by states — where, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 300,000 inmates were housed as of 2014. With tumbling stocks, investors will continue to flee and contracts will become difficult to fulfill.

Private prisons, in all their forms, are civil rights disasters. They are managed by underqualified, inexperienced staff and characterized by shameful standards of living — the Texas-based Giles W. Dalby prison, as one example, has made it standard practice to house regular inmates in Special Housing Units, segregated cells typically reserved for dangerous inmates.

It is time for states to follow suit and rid themselves of private prisons. However, left to their own devices, progress within states will not be swift (and in some places, like Louisiana, will likely not come at all).

This is why the next move from the Department of Justice needs to come in the form of lawsuits directed at states with private prison contracts; the aim being an end to this disgraceful practice in the United States as a whole, once and for all.

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Photo Credit: Kilav / Thinkstock

90 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Wendi M.
Wendi M2 years ago

TYFS
Zero reason for the more Government Waste for the Uber elite of our tax code to reap yet more money from

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Wendi M.
Wendi M2 years ago

TYFS
Shut them who is profiting from?

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I didn't realize there were so many of them. Agreed, time to close.

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Ben Oscarsito
Ben O2 years ago

I sure hope so...

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

We can hope.

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Elaine W.
Past Member 2 years ago

The terms Justice and Private Prison are diametrically opposed. If here is a profit to be made then convictions are a moneymaking scheme. This is my logical opinion.

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