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Corrections Corporations of America is one of the largest private prison corporations in the country, and currently runs 47 prisons nationwide. (Photo: CCA.com)

Admitting Failed Experiment, DOJ to Phase Out Private Prisons

Private prisons more dangerous and costly, Justice Department finally admits

Nika Knight

After years of documented human rights abuses by the private prison industry, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally ending its use of privately-run, for-profit prisons, the Washington Post reports.

"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."
—David Fathi, ACLU
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo Thursday announcing that the federal government is ending its contracts with the private prison industry, days after the department's Inspector General issued a damning report about the danger and abuse facing inmates in private federal prisons.

According to that report, about 22,660 inmates were living in federal private prisons as of December 2015.

"This is an important and groundbreaking decision," said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. "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."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also applauded the decision in a press statement: "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," Sanders added. "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."

In the memo, Yates wrote that in comparison to government-run facilities, private prisons "do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and [...] they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

The Post reports that the memo "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.'"

"The fact of the matter is that private prisons don't compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that," Yates told the Post in an interview.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) lauded the decision but called on the government to go further, demanding it shutter privately-run detention centers for immigrants as well.

"The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement—whose civil immigration detention facilities form a far larger component of private prison contractors' portfolios—must immediately follow the DOJ's example," CCR wrote in a statement. "Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central America, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors' terrible record providing inadequate medical and mental health care to dying immigrants."


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