And the Obama administration agrees, announcing that it will end the federal use of private prisons, a major new policy that has been sought by criminal justice reformers.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on Thursday instructed officials that when existing contracts come up for renewal, they are to either decline to do so or “substantially reduce” their scope. The relevant contracts will all come up for renewal over 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,” Yates told The Washington Post, “and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that.”
In addition to an Inspector General’s report finding serious problems with safety and security for both inmates and staff in private prisons, there was also the recent, brutal exposé by Mother Jones’s Shane Bauer, who went undercover as a staffer at a private prison housing state inmates in Louisiana. In that piece, Bauer detailed chilling accounts of inferior medical care—including an inmate who lost both his legs and his fingers to untreated gangrene—sexual assaults, and other abusive practices, as well as the frequent cancellation of such rehabilitative services as the law library, education and job training, and drug counseling.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is this does not by itself signal the end of private prisons. According to Bauer’s statistics, most of the private prison population comes from state judicial systems, not the federal system.