The Justice Department declared that private prisons would be closed after evaluations and investigations showed that they are less effective and more dangerous than those controlled by the federal government. The private facilities will not renew their contracts with the Bureau of Prisons, and if they do, the terms of the contract will be reduced. This comes as a direct instruction from the Justice Department which published its decision on a memo Thursday.

According to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, private prisons are not saving significant costs and do not provide enough security, nor services to the inmates and the correctional officers. And now that the number of inmates in federal prisons has declined, the Bureau of Prisons can receive private prison’s transfers and help in the process of eliminating private facilities for prisoners.

The report shows that the Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million on private facilities. Image Credit: Sun Bay Paper

Yates stated that there are 13 privately run prisons hired by the Bureau of Prisons system, but they will not close overnight. The time it will take to transfer all inmates is unknown. By December 2015, private prisons had 22,600 federal inmates, 12 percent of the Bureau of Prisons total inmate population, according to the inspector general’s report on private prisons. The document was released last week.

The Deputy Attorney General said in the memo that it is expected that by May 2017, the total population in private prisons will be reduced to 14,200 inmates, although she admitted that is is an estimation. The speed of the transfers from private to federal prisons will depend on the decline of the federal prison’s population.

Why do private prisons exist in the first place?

The initiative came with the overpopulation of federal prisons in 2013. The Bureau of Prisons had to hire private institutions to guarantee a safe place to inmates and at the same time, assure American citizens that they were safe from criminals.

Almost 3 thousand inmates were transferred to private facilities at the time, but now that there have been adjustments in sentences, federal prisons now have space for those prisoners that are in private locations.

Yates announced that federal prisons have the capacity to provide better security, services, and programs than the private facilities, where correctional officers and inmates are more vulnerable to violence. Mother Jones made an investigation on private prisons, and they found there are more violence cases than what private prisons reports. The investigation was made by a journalist that was undercovered in a private Louisiana prison as a correctional officer.

The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in his report that there were more security incidents in private prisons than in prisons run by the government. Private facilities have higher rates of assaults between inmates. But the staff is not safe either, and they have also been victims of the deficiencies of private prisons. Regarding contraband cellphones, private prisons have eight times more cases than in prisons run by the Bureau of Prisons system.

The incident occurred in May 2012 in a private prison in Mississippi marked a precedent in how dangerous is to ignore that private facilities are not as safe as they must be. At the Adams County Correctional Center 20 people were injured, and a correctional officer was murdered. There was a riot where 250 inmates were protesting about food quality and medical cares.

The report mentions many other examples and states that private prisons are not fit to contain inmates because they are not capable of protecting the lives of the inmates nor the lives of their personnel. Yates said that with the current decline of the population in federal prisons, the Justice Department has both the opportunity and the responsibility to solve the problem of private prisons.

Closing private prisons will affect those that invested on the project, and the government could face some resistance

The inspector general’s report says that contract prisons are run by three private corporations: Corrections of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The Department of Justice’s decision affected the private prison’s stock prices dramatically, although Management and Training Corporations has not been as affected as the other corporations.

Yates wrote that private prisons served an important role while federal prisons were struggling with overpopulation. But now that the sentencing guidelines have been adjusted for low-level drug offenders, the number of prisoners have been reduced, and now federal prisons can take care of those inmates that are housed in private facilities.

The Deputy Attorney General added that to transfer inmates to federal prison; there will be no need to hire extra personnel, but Yates stated that is hard to determine if this will be less or more expensive than hiring private prisons.

The contractors running the private prisons indicated that the challenges that private facilities face are due to the nature of the inmate populations, which according to them, are noncitizens. Contractors say that federal prisons do not deal with great populations of foreign inmates, and that is why they do not have many security problems.

The Washington Post reported that the president of Management and Training Corporation, Scott Marquardt, said that comparing federal prisons to private ones was comparing apples and oranges.

Source: The Washington Post