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Sessions Ends Obama Memo To Phase Out Private Prisons

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama administration memo that advised the Bureau of Prisons to reduce the number of new contracts with private prisons for federal inmates.

"The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system," Sessions wrote, according to NPR.

On Aug. 18, 2016, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates sent the memo to the Bureau of Prisons that was subsequently hailed by anti-private prison activists as a step forward.

"Today, I sent a memo to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons directing that, as each private prison contract reaches the end of its term, the bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the bureau’s inmate population," Yates wrote. "This is the first step in the process of reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons. While an unexpected need may arise in the future, the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities."

Although the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama appeared to be publicly opposed to extending private prison contracts, private prison companies were still getting extensions in the time between the DOJ announcement and Sessions' announcement.

On Sep. 30, 2016, private prison company GEO Group received a two-year extension on its D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, Georgia.

"We are very appreciative of the continued confidence placed in our company by the Federal Bureau of Prisons with this important contract renewal," said George C. Zoley, GEO Group’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, according to Street Insider.

On Aug. 19, 2016, one day after the DOJ memo was released, Zoley told the Sun-Sentinel that he didn't believe much change would come about.

"There's been an overreaction to the news about the [Bureau of Prisons] contracts," Zoley said. "We think, in time, this will correct itself." 

Sources: NPR, DOJ, Street Insider, South Florida Sun-Sentinel/ Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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