Justice Dept. orders phasing out of private federal prisons

The U.S. Justice Department announced on Aug. 18 that it was ordering the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin phasing out the use of private prisons.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a post on the Justice Department’s website. Yates said the order includes amending the solicitation for five private prisons in Texas from 10,800 prisoners to 3,600.

By May 2017, the Bureau of Prisons is expected to have 14,000 prisoners in private prisons, a decline of about 50 percent from a peak a few years ago. The bureau was instructed that as contracts come up for renewal, it is to reduce the numbers and, if possible, not renew the contracts.

David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, responded to the news in a press statement:  “This is an important and groundbreaking decision. With its announcement today, the Justice Department has made clear that the end of the Bureau of Prisons’ two-decade experiment with private prisons is finally in sight. The ACLU applauds today’s decision and calls on other agencies — both state and federal — to stop handing control of prisons to for-profit companies.”

Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the government is taking a “more humane and budget-conscious approach to dealing with one of the country’s most intractable problems.”

Henderson continued, “People in private prisons are more likely to be assaulted, have less access to basic rehabilitative services, and leave worse off than when they arrived.

“This is also a positive indication that the smart-on-crime approach to fair sentencing is slowly shrinking the largest prison population in human history.”

Another outspoken critic of the private prison system, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, applauded the decision.

In a statement issued on Aug. 18, Sanders, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, said, “Our criminal justice system is broken and in need of major reforms. The Justice Department’s plan to end its use of private prisons is an important step in the right direction. It is exactly what I campaigned on as a candidate for president.

“It is an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on earth. Due in large part to private prisons, incarceration has been a source of major profits to private corporations. Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.

“We have got to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible. Our focus should be on keeping people out of jail and making sure they stay out when they are released.  This means funding jobs and education not more jails and incarceration.”

On the web

Read Sally Yates’ blog post here.