Shareholders in private prison firms may not be happy about their sinking shares after a memo by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates instructed prison officials not to renew contracts with private operators, but Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) couldn’t be happier. The memo to phase out and “substantially reduce” what their contracts cover is exactly what Sanders campaigned on during his presidential run and he didn’t hesitate to issue a statement regarding the decision, reports Politicus USA.
“It is an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on earth. Due in large part to private prisons, incarceration has been a source of major profits to private corporations. Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.
“We have got to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible. Our focus should be on keeping people out of jail and making sure they stay out when they are released. This means funding jobs and education not more jails and incarceration.”
Why we must end the existence of for-profit prisons entirely: https://t.co/3TcwOotGXp
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 19, 2016
According to Newser, privately run institutions such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO saw their profits fall by 40 percent on Thursday but recovered somewhat on Friday, as Yates outlined a plan for “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
“Today, I sent a memo to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons directing that, as each private prison contract reaches the end of its term, the bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the bureau’s inmate population. This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons. While an unexpected need may arise in the future, the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities.”
The Justice Department memo comes after a report from the Inspector General’s office that found private prisons don’t maintain the same safety and security standards as federally run prisons do. The report also found for-profit facilities’ correctional services, resources, and rehabilitation programs are sub-par, if not non-existent, in comparison to those run by the government.
Bernie Sanders is joined by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who also believe that the 20-year-old practice of profiting from imprisonment is morally reprehensible and has produced a corrupt and dangerous prison system. Sanders frequently attacked the system after it was revealed that the nation’s largest private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America, made $3,356 per inmate.
“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration,” said Sanders, according to Fusion. “Companies should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons spent $639 million in fiscal 2014, according to the Inspector General report, and the budget for housing and rehabilitating individuals incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons accounts for 25 percent of the Justice Department’s budget every year. Between 1980 and 2013, the prison population increased by almost 800 percent and the federal government implemented the use of privately run institutions to incarcerate low security, “criminal alien” males with sentences of 90 months or less to handle the overflow.
In 2013, 15 percent (30,000) of federal prisoners were housed in private facilities and it was at this time that the Department of Justice launched its Smart on Crime Initiative, which ensured more proportional sentences and retroactively adjusted the sentences of low-level drug offenders. That move saw the prison population decrease from 220,000 in 2013 to 195,000 in 2015, making prison overflow less of an issue.
An investigation series published in the Mother Jones July/August 2016 issue revealed disturbing details about the conditions both inmates and staff alike endure inside private prisons. Journalists went undercover and revealed amongst other issues, the wide-spread practice of under-staffing private prisons with low-payed workers created unsafe conditions and low moral for the prisoners and staff alike.
The much-publicized story of 250 prisoners rioting at the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi over their deplorable living conditions in 2012, resulted in 20 injuries and a dead correctional officer helped to shed a light on the plight of those housed in private facilities, reports the Washington Post.
Obviously, companies operating private prisons are not happy about the future of their lucrative enterprises. Corrections Corporations of America spokesman Jonathan Burns said the report had “significant flaws.”
“The findings simply don’t match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and quality, or the excellent feedback we get from our partners at all levels of government.”
Issa Arnita, a spokesman for Management and Training Corporation said, “If the DOJ’s decision to end the use of contract prisons were based solely on declining inmate populations, there may be some justification, but to base this decision on cost, safety, and security, and programming is wrong.”
It is important to note that the directive only applies to 13 privately run facilities that house roughly 22,000 prisoners, which is 12 percent of our nation’s overall inmate population. The Washington Post stated that the vast majority of America’s inmates are housed in state prisons, not federal ones, and Yates’ memo does not apply to any state-run facilities, not even the private ones. The directive doesn’t apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Marshals Service detainees, who are not under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons but are technically in the federal system.
Senator Sanders’ belief that our tax dollars should be used to rehabilitate prisoners instead of housing them in facilities that profit from imprisonment was realized with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates statement.
“This decline in the prison population means that we can better allocate our resources to ensure that inmates are in the safest facilities and receiving the best rehabilitative services – services that increase their chances of becoming contributing members of their communities when they return from prison.”
[Photo by Matt Rourke/AP Images]