U.S. Justice Department Will Stop Using Private Prisons

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 19, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The United States Department of Justice announced this week that it will phase out its use of private prisons for federal convicts. A DOJ memo noted that private prisons offered fewer rehabilitative programs and resources, were less safe, and cost just as much as Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.

The move away from private prisons could be a huge landmark in federal criminal justice, and could influence state use of private prisons as well.

Where Will All the Inmates Go?

While the federal prisoner population ballooned 800 percent from 1980 to 2013, that number has started to decline in recent years, from its peak of around 220,000 inmates in 2013 to 195,000 today. The DOJ expects that number will continue to decline, thus reducing the need for private prisons to handle overflow from federal facilities. There are only 13 privately run prisons that will be affected by the new recommendations, and they house just over 22,000 inmates.

Still, those facilities could not compare to federal prisons in terms of safety and services. As Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates put it:

Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. 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. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource -- and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.

Federal to State Influence

While this may be a positive first step for the federal government, it may not put a dent in the overall private prison population. Most inmates are housed in state prisons and their privately run contractors. The new directive also doesn't apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, many of whom are also held in violence-ridden encampments.

Perhaps one slice of good news for those who oppose private prisons? Their stocks took a nosedive following the DOJ's announcement.

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