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Justice Department To Shut Down Private Prison Industry

Public is the new private.

During a year in which Netflix's critically-acclaimed "Orange Is the New Black" explored the dark side of the private prison industry with fictional tales of abuse and mismanagement, the Department of Justice said the real-life stories of private prisons' shortcomings have convinced officials to end the practice of contracting companies to run U.S. correctional facilities.

The end of private prisons won't come overnight, and the DOJ's decision only concerns federal facilities, according to a report by The Washington Post. But critics of privately-run prisons lauded the move, which reverses more than three decades of contracting out operations to corporations.

The decision comes after a DOJ review of the Bureau of Prisons, which oversees all federal correctional facilities. The report noted that, while the federal government contracted $639 million to private companies to "confine federal inmates who are primarily low security, criminal alien adult males with 90 months or less remaining to serve on their sentences," the companies did a poor job of providing security for inmates and correctional officers.

Not only had lax oversight led to "disturbances in several federal contract prisons" which resulted in damage to facilities, but inmate injuries are up and one officer was killed in recent years, the report said.

“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,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote on Aug. 18.

The report detailed incidents where private companies lost control of inmate populations, including a May 2012 riot at the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi, where a correction officer was killed and 20 other people were injured. The riot was spurred by inmates frustrated with the prison's low-quality food and healthcare, the report said.

"We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions," the report's authors wrote.

The authors didn't just review violent outbreaks -- their analysis also covered prison contraband such as cell phones and weapons, lockdowns, inmate discipline, phone monitoring, drug testing and sexual misconduct.

Contract prisons had higher rates of assaults, and confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones as their government-run counterparts, the report said.

“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 wrote, according to the Post.

The announcement sent the stocks of major private prison companies plummeting on Aug. 18, the BBC noted. The federal government said it will not renew private prison contracts that expire in the near future, and will "substantially reduce" the scope of contracts at other facilities, with the ultimate goal of ending private management completely.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who made the private prison industry a talking point during his Democratic primary campaign, praised the Aug. 18 decision.

Ending private management is "an important step in the right direction," Sanders said, ending "an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on Earth."

Sources: The Washington Post, BBC, Department of Justice / Photo credit: Netflix via Slate

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