The United States Department of Justice will no longer use private prisons to incarcerate federal inmates. On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates sent a memo to DOJ officials instructing them to either decline to renew federal contracts with for-profit prison facilities when those contracts expire, or to “substantially reduce” the scope of those contracts.
“[Private prisons] 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,” Yates wrote in the memo. She added that the ultimate goal of the DOJ’s new policy was “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
The report Yates cited was issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Justice last week. In the report, the OIG found that both inmates and guards at private prisons were far more likely to experience assault, and confiscation of contraband cellphones was eight times higher than in facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The report cited a 2012 riot at a private prison in Mississippi that led to “extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a Correctional Officer.” The riot allegedly stemmed from inmates protesting poor medical care and low-quality food.
“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.
Private prison issues recently came into the national spotlight earlier this summer, when Mother Jones published an extensive investigation into abuses at a private prison facility in Louisiana. According to Mother Jones, 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million inmates are housed in for-profit prison facilities operated by companies like the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America.
The DOJ’s new private prison policy is expected to come fully into effect as contracts expire over the next five years.
Shortly after the announcement, stock prices for two of the biggest companies in the private prison industry suffered massive, historic losses: