Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


sites, about 22,000 inmates

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after 
officials concluded that the facilities are less safe and less 
effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision Thursday 
in a memo that 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."

"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, 
programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and 
as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector 
General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," 
Yates wrote.

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run 
federal prisons house only a small fraction of the overall population 
of inmates. The vast majority of America's incarcerated are housed in 
state prisons - rather than federal ones - and Yates's memo does not 
apply to any of those, even the ones that are privately run. Nor does 
it apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals 
Service detainees, who are technically in the federal system but not 
under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The directive is instead limited to the 13 privately run facilities, 
housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of 
Prisons system. The facilities were meant mainly to house inmates who 
are mostly low-security "criminal alien" men with 90 months or less 
remaining on their sentences, according to a recent report by the 
Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. Yates said the 
Justice Department would review the contracts for those facilities as 
they come up for renewal, as all will do in the next five years. She 
said they would then be reduced or allowed to expire, though none 
would be terminated prematurely.

Still, the memo could spark broader change in the prison system.

"This is a huge deal. It is historic and groundbreaking," said David 
Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "For the last 35 
years, the use of private prisons in this country has crept ever 
upward, and this is a startling and major reversal of that trend, and 
one that we hope will be followed by others."

The Justice Department's inspector general last week released a 
critical report concluding that privately operated facilities 
incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the 
federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had 
higher rates of assaults - both by inmates on other inmates and by 
inmates on staff - and had eight times as many contraband cellphones 
confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

Disturbances in the facilities, the report said, led in recent years 
to "extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a 
Correctional Officer." The report listed several examples of mayhem 
at private facilities, including a May 2012 riot at the Adams County 
Correctional Center in Mississippi in which 20 people were injured 
and a correctional officer was killed. That incident, according to 
the report, involved 250 inmates who were upset about low-quality 
food and medical care.

Yates said Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons officials had 
been talking for months about discontinuing their use. Mother Jones 
recently published a 35,000-word expose detailing a reporter's 
undercover work as a private prison guard in Louisiana - a piece that 
found serious deficiencies. The Nation magazine wrote earlier this 
year about deaths under questionable circumstances in privately 
operated facilities.

It is possible the directive could face resistance from those 
companies that will be affected. In a statement Thursday, Jonathan 
Burns, a spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, criticized 
the Office of the Inspector General report, saying it had "significant flaws."

"The report's authors freely admit that they 'were unable to evaluate 
all of the factors that contributed to the underlying data,' and they 
failed to account for the impact of elements such as population 
demographics or the scope and efficacy of efforts to mitigate 
contraband," Burns wrote.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for GEO Group, said in a statement: "While 
our company was disappointed by today's DOJ announcement, the impact 
of this decision on GEO is not imminent." He added that GEO would 
"continue to work with the BOP, as well as all of our government 
partners, in order to ensure safe and secure operations at all of our 

Issa Arnita, a spokesman for Management and Training Corporation, 
also questioned the government's rationale. "If the DOJ's decision to 
end the use of contract prisons were based solely on declining inmate 
populations, there may be some justification, but to base this 
decision on cost, safety and security, and programming is wrong," he 
said in a statement.

Yates noted that the Bureau of Prisons was "already taking steps" to 
make her order a reality. Three weeks ago, she wrote, the bureau 
declined to renew a contract for 1,200 beds at the Cibola County 
Correctional Center in New Mexico.

Yates wrote that the bureau also would amend a solicitation for a 
10,800-bed contract to one for a maximum 3,600-bed contract. That, 
Yates wrote, would allow the Bureau of Prisons over the next year to 
discontinue housing inmates in at least three private prisons, and by 
May 1, 2017, the total private prison population would stand at fewer 
than 14,200 inmates. She said it was "hard to know precisely" when 
all the privately run facilities would no longer have federal 
inmates, though she noted that 14,200 was fewer than half the inmates 
they had held at their apex three years ago, a figure she said 
indicated the department was "well on our way to ultimately 
eliminating the use of private prisons entirely."

Fathi, of the ACLU, said because certain states and Immigration and 
Customs Enforcement have such a large proportion of their inmates in 
private facilities, it might be difficult for them to quickly 
replicate the Bureau of Prisons plan. But he said states typically 
look to their federal partners for best practices on prisons, and he 
"would not be surprised if we saw some states following suit."

Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group now run most of the 
13 affected facilities. Those companies were the greatest 
beneficiaries of a three-decade period when the government toughened 
sentencing for drug offenders and was unwilling to expand the 
federally run prison system in step with the exploding prisoner 
population. CCA and GEO convinced Washington that they could provide 
the alternative, and both became more reliant on the government for 
their business.

In 2015, both companies received roughly half of their revenue from 
federal contracts. Of that, only a portion comes from Bureau of 
Prisons corrections deals that will be wound down under Yates's plan. 
The companies also have major deals with the U.S. Marshals Service 
and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Burns, of CCA, 
noted that the announcement affected only Bureau of Prisons 
correctional facilities, which he said make up 7 percent of the 
company's business.

Still, traders on Thursday staged a massive sell-off, sending shares 
in GEO and CCA sliding more than 35 percent.

In 2013, Yates wrote, the prison population began to decline because 
of efforts to adjust sentencing guidelines, sometimes retroactively, 
and to change the way lowlevel drug offenders are charged. She said 
the drop in federal inmates gave officials the opportunity to 
reevaluate the use of private prisons.

Yates wrote that private prisons "served an important role during a 
difficult time period," but they had proved less effective than 
facilities run by the government. The Bureau of Prisons spent $639 
million on private prisons in fiscal 2014, according to the inspector 
general's report.

Yates said it was "really hard to determine whether private prisons 
are less expensive" and whether their closure would cause costs to go 
up, though she said officials did not anticipate having to hire 
additional Bureau of Prisons staff.

"Bottom line, I'd also say, you get what you pay for," Yates said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom