The Justice Department’s Call to Axe Private-Prison Contracts Is A Victory. ICE Must Now Do the Same to End Federal Prison Profiteering.

In a bluntly-worded memo issued yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin phasing out all of its contracts with private prisons.

Private prisons, the memo stated, “compare poorly” to federally run prisons. They “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and . . . they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.” The memo then describes how the Bureau of Prisons will reduce and ultimately end its reliance on private prisons.

This announcement is a tremendous victory.

Phasing out the bureau’s use of private prisons will measurably
 improve the lives of tens of thousands of people who would have otherwise remain locked in these abusive, unaccountable, profit-driven institutions. The reform, long overdue, is the result of years of patient, persistent advocacy by criminal justice advocates, including the publication of the ACLU’s 2014 report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, a five-year project that comprehensively documented the shocking conditions in this shadow system of private prisons.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General also deserves credit for its yeoman’s service. Last week, it issued a long-awaited report concluding that these private prisons experienced nine times more lockdowns and more violence than comparable bureau-run prisons, improperly used solitary confinement cells as overflow housing, and failed to provide adequate medical and security staffing.

The news has already jolted prison profiteers: In the wake of the announcement, the stock prices of private prison giants Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group dropped precipitously.

But the next blows to the private prison industry will hit them harder. The Bureau of Prisons just amended an open solicitation for 10,800 private prison beds — something that had been expected to replace five soon-to-expire private prison contracts in Texas — to reduce it to 3,600 beds. This will force a series of contract cancellations as early as May 2017. And in each contract renewal that comes after that, the bureau’s marching orders are to “either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope” with the goal of ultimately ending all of the bureau’s private prison contracts.

The Justice Department’s action will also trigger aftershocks in its sister agency, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention system.

In the past year alone, ICE has faced fierce criticism for failing to oversee its private detention contractors, failing to react to deadly lapses in medical care, and failing to care for people with mental illness. Many of the most disturbing stories took place in ICE detention facilities run by the same private prison companies that will soon be losing their Bureau of Prisons contracts. Now that the Justice Department has firmly declared its own private prison experiment to be a failure, any attempt by ICE to defend its continued relationships with these companies will ring hollow.

And if DHS follows the Justice Department’s lead, the impact will be even greater than yesterday’s announcement. While Bureau of Prisons contracts account for a significant share of each company’s revenue — 15 percent for GEO and 9 percent for CCA — and their loss will likely destabilize the companies, ICE detention accounts for an even larger share of their revenue. Eighteen percent of GEO’s annual revenue comes from ICE detention, and a whopping 28 percent of CCA’s revenue is from ICE detention, much of it from a billion-dollar contract to detain Central American mothers and children in a modern-day internment camp.

The combined effect of losing the Bureau of Prisons contracts and ICE contracts would deal a death blow to both companies. That’s a fitting end to two predatory institutions that depend on and profit from America’s addiction to incarceration. And it can’t happen soon enough.

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Anonymous

I think it's a noble goal to eliminate prisons (public or private makes little difference) but honest citizens should expect that violent criminals will be released early and the entire criminal population will have less reason to follow the law. Watch a drug gang member laugh when you sentence him to 2-years in prison for rape & murder. Violent criminals need to be locked up!

Nice Try

Ending for-profit prisons does not mean 2-year sentences for violent offenders. Honest citizens should expect to hear misinformation like "violent criminals will be released early".

Sandra

Kingman Prison in Arizona is one of the worst ran by GEO. I have complained about staff using profanity and inappropriate discussion regarding inmates with no regard in front of my grandchilden. Visitors have been left in the visit room with inmates and NO Correction Officers. There is no education provided. I have been told directly by staff that they do not have the resources to treat medical problems with the amount of inmates they house. Really, I have even wrote the Governor of Arizona to address these problems. Responses are deferred. We must be heard. This is unacceptable.

Anonymous

Ever think about the staff members that rely on that job to pay bills, feed their families, clothe their children, all of them jobless now, thousands of people jobless all at once, let that sink in. All to cater to criminals that have blatant disregard for the law, whereas law abiding citizens wind up on the streets hungry and homeless, so thank you Washington for making myself and thousands of other law abiding AMERICAN citizens struggle to find work in places where jobs are scarce and the towns rely on those facilities to survive and bring in revenue, guess what, now you have just crashed the economy of these towns which in turn will cause more unemployment forcing more AMERICANS on the street because they don't have the means anymore to pay their bills and mortgage. Congratulations on killing the dreams and livelihood of these people.

Anonymous

Excellent point made. I would also like you to consider this as well - more Federal control in a monopolistic manner, just like the Communist ideals of state-run everything. Seems to me the easier way would be to inspect and make the private prisons do the job they are being paid to do. To me this matter ties into this article well....

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Anonymous

I work at one of these prisons. Our bulletin board is covered in thank you letters form prisoners stating word for word that our health care is better than the BOP. Their justifications for this are we find more contraband. If you don't look for it or don't report it you don't find any. Private prisons are a good system. We just don't have the same connections as the BOP. If our upper management was funding the right political party they would be singing our good graces

Anonymous

You fail to take into account all of the people who will lose their jobs. Most of the people will not end up on government assistance. They will have a hard time taking care of their families.

Anonymous

My husband works for one of these mentioned companies. While I agree that imprisoning people for profit is wrong, no one is taking the time to look at the 400+ people employed at each of the 13 private federal facilities who will be out of work.

Nice Try

So... do we keep people imprisoned for profit? Or should your husband possibly attempt to retrain and fill-in the huge skills gap of available jobs across the United States where you don't lock people up for profit? Like an electrician, truck driver, factory worker, plumber, engineer, land surveyor, etc, etc, etc.... I'm confused.

Anonymous

One of the largest private prison companies mailed letters to every Governor in the United States requiring "occupancy quotas" or full prisons.

Governors, state legislators and prison officials are all "constitutional" officers oath-sworn to comply with the U.S. Constitution - which includes the 8th Amendment and a presumption of innocent until proven guilty for all suspects.

When private prison companies are making campaign contributions to politicians and then arbitrarily demanding full occupancy of prisons - the suspects and those convicted are less likely to receive constitutional due process. The process is being driven by money instead of constitutional due process. For example, Governors and state legislators may defund Public Defender's offices and overfund prosecutors in order to meet the occupancy quota.

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