Justice Department Will End Use of Private Prisons

| by Sarah Zimmerman

The Justice Department has decided to end its use of private prisons after an investigation has shown the facilities are less safe and less equipped to provide adequate correctional services than federal prisons.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has instructed officials to either not renew federal contracts with private prison operators once they expire or reduce the scope of the contract. According to The Washington Post, Yates wrote in a memo that the government has plans of "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," she wrote in the memo. 

An undercover investigation at a private prison by a Mother Jones reporter found a lack of health care and a disregard for inmates' health. The prison was understaffed and more concerned with making a profit than adequately providing for inmates. The reporter, Shane Bauer, said inmates would be denied medical care as the prison did not want to pay costs for health care.

"Often, the prison would have to bear the expense of sending a prisoner to a hospital," Bauer explained to NPR. "If they're making $34 per inmate per day, a hospital bill is a major expense."

The U.S. currently has 13 privately run correctional facilities within the Bureau of Prisons system. All of their contracts are up for renewal within the next five years. 

"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 Washington Post.

The companies affected are already providing some resistance to the news. President of Management and Training Corporation Scott Marquardt is disputing the federal report, saying that it's unfair to compare federal prisons to private ones. 

"Any casual reader would come to the conclusion that contract prisons are not as safe as BOP prisons," he wrote, according to The Washington Post. "The conclusion is wrong and is not supported by the work done by the [Inspector General]."

Yates is unsure as to when federal use of private prisons will be completely eliminated. The bureau has already declined to renew one contract with a private correctional facility in New Mexico.

"[We are] well on our way to ultimately eliminating the use of private prisons entirely," she said.

Sources: The Washington Post, NPR / Photo credit: miss_millions/Flickr

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