On August 18th, the Obama administration said it would begin to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons to house federal inmates. The deputy attorney general, Sally Q. Yates said that private prisons do not save substantially on costs and provide fewer rehabilitative services like education and job training that reduce recidivism when inmates are released.
From 1980 to its peak in 2013 the federal prison population grew from 25,000 to 219,000. By then about 30,000 inmates were held in private for-profit prisons to alleviate overcrowding in federal prisons. Todd R. Clear, a prison policy expert at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice says that profits have played a significant role in the growth of the prison population. “As long as we have people making money off of prisons, the ability to make sound prison policy is distorted by the profit motive,” he said.
As the number of federal inmates dropped by 22,000 over the last two years the value of using privately run facilities has been questioned. This month, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report on the use of private prisons. It found that private prisons were more violent and problematic than public prisons because of inadequate health care, poor food, more assaults, long lockdowns and the discovery of contraband like cell phones and “mojo” (synthetic marijuana).
Shane Bauer, a journalist for Mother Jones went undercover for 4 months into a Louisiana prison run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). He was hired as a corrections officer with no training at $11.50 per hour. His expose has contributed to the phase-out of private prisons. CCA is one of 3 corporations running this $639 million prison industry. The other two are GEO group and Management and Training Corporation. These corporations are fighting the administration move to close them. While admitting that private prisons have a higher rate of violent episodes, they certainly don’t want to lose their $639 million.
“This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons,” Ms. Yates wrote in a blog post published on the Justice Department’s website. And Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) called Thursday’s announcement an important first step in addressing this unacceptable situation. “Incarceration should not be a for-profit business,” he said.
My hope is that as private prisons are eliminated at the federal level that the close of privately-owned state prisons will soon follow. With a drop in crime and the overhaul of sentencing guidelines, the money wasted on private prisons would be better spent on rehabilitation services and job training for those still incarcerated.