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by Paul Barrett
The U.S. Department of Justice made headlines on Thursday by announcing it’s phasing out contracts with private prison companies. Shares of publicly traded incarceration firms Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group plunged. Liberal prison-reform advocates applauded.
But there’s a problem: fundamental flaws in the main source of data on which the DOJ based its assessment—that privately operated prisons provide less safety and security than publicly run lockups. That source, an 80-page report released earlier this month by the agency’s own inspector general, compared 14 so-called contract prisons with an equal number of facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The IG’s main conclusion: “… contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions.” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates picked up on that “safety and security” language in her Aug. 18 memo instructing the bureau to wind down outstanding contracts with private prison operators.
by Sasha Volokh August 25, 2016
Why is the federal government so eager to stop housing prisoners privately?
The Department of Justice’s recent decision that the federal Bureau of Prisons should wind down its private-prison contracting was apparently based on private prisons’ bad record of safety and security violations relative to their public counterparts. It turns out, though, that the DOJ’s understanding of private prisons’ record is informed by a serious over-reading of faulty comparative studies, in particular a recent study by the Office of the Inspector General.
Daniel P. MearsGuest columnist
More research is needed before deciding private-public prison issue.
The U.S. Department of Justice has taken the unprecedented step of seeking to terminate all federal private-prison contracts. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates says private prisons "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 the Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."
The U.S. Department of Justice's announcement that it intends to phase out its use of private prisons has prompted some in Florida to question whether or not the state should follow suit. This would be a mistake.
Private prisons have played an important role in Florida's prison system since 1991, and today approximately 12 percent of the state's inmates are housed in seven privately operated prisons.
California Can Use Private Prisons in Criminal Justice Reform Efforts
Private prisons have provided California with an important relief valve for a decade, serving as part of a larger package of efforts designed to end prison overcrowding and reduce the high cost of corrections. Without private prisons, California would have been forced to spend billions building new prisons or renovating existing prisons to comply with court orders. The debacle of the state-run prison system, which featured massive prison overcrowding and operated a failing health care system that performed so badly the federal government took it over to end ongoing civil rights violations, needed help from the private sector.
The benefits of private prisons
There are a total of 2.2 million incarcerated adults presently housed in U.S. correctional facilities. To the surprise of many, roughly 8 percent of those inmates live in privately owned prisons; ones that the government pays private contractors to run. Last month, the Justice Department announced that it would no longer contract with these private prison operators and would not renew relationships as existing agreements expire for 13 federal correction facilities. The department argues that these prisons are immoral and not cost-effective. What the Justice Department has not recognized is that these private prisons could be incredibly beneficial to our criminal justice system.